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Commentary: Testing! Testing! 1 2 3! Detouring away from meaningful education

By the Notebook on Nov 9, 2012 03:23 PM
Photo: Flickr/timlewisnm

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by Joseph P. Batory

During the past 12 years, since the adoption of No Child Left Behind, elected officials at state and national levels have been consumed with using test scores as a panacea for American education. This political pressure has crumbled the educational resistance from many school districts, which have now bought into test preparation rituals and teaching to the test as the top priorities for public education.

This frenzy over testing has led schools away from meaningful teaching and learning. Getting students to answer a few more multiple choice questions correctly each year, after months of test preparation and rehearsals, hardly means that they are better educated. Worse yet, the amount of time devoted to teaching to the test has shrunk learning activities that foster higher-order skills like in-depth analysis, synthesis, and discussion and deliberation. An unfortunate effect of this devotion has been a narrowing of the curriculum. The more time spent on standardized testing, the less attention given to other subject areas.

In a 2005 study titled “The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High Stakes Testing,” co-authors David Berliner and Sharon Nichols found that an over-reliance on standardized testing had negative, corrupting consequences at every level of the public school system. Speaking about the findings, Berliner said:

“Now we see a kind of mentality seeping into the schools, where generations (of students) are being trained to beat the system. Learning subject matter in depth is no longer the goal of schools involved with high-stakes tests. We are witnessing proof of a well-known social science law, which basically says that the greater the pressure to perform at a certain level, the more likely people will find a way to corrupt the system and achieve favorable results.”

Paul Houston, the former executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, has termed this testing pressure from politicians and bureaucrats as a misguided effort “to bludgeon schools to greatness.” Houston emphasized that this agenda of coercion is wrong and has never worked anywhere in the world.

Beating the test has become the goal of learning in many schools. It has replaced meaningful educational reform in schools. Students study to improve their test scores, not to acquire knowledge. And it is sad to note that many school districts, to create more intensity of test preparations, have curtailed, or even removed, classes that encourage innovation, imagination, creativity, and intellectual discussion. The daily school curriculum is now much more tailored to what is on the tests, to ensure that scores will continually rise. This is only creating a false plateau of educational achievement.

An analysis of the inherent flaws of standardized test results as the primary measure of school effectiveness was published by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, citing “this test and punish approach to school reform as relying on extremely limited, one-size-fits-all tools that have reduced meaningful education to little more than test preparation programs.”

For many years now, an abundance of research, as well as numerous academic position papers and books regarding the misuse of standardized testing in education, have been largely ignored. And parents, teachers and school administrators have had little input into how to improve teaching and learning in our schools. Our nation is continuing to follow a political pathway that will never create meaningful educational improvement.

Joseph Batory was superintendent of schools in Upper Darby from 1984 to 1999.  When he retired, he received the prestigious Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators. He is the author of three books on school leadership.


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Comments (11)

Submitted by Philadelphia parent and teacher (not verified) on November 9, 2012 5:07 pm
Batory's succinct post does a fine job of restating something we teachers know well, the truth that bears repeating because Americans of good will (all the way up to the President) don't get it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 9, 2012 7:06 pm
And some Americans of not so much good will, like Charter "Operators."
Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on November 10, 2012 12:33 pm
As Andy Hargreaves (2003) said about testing and its goal to ending the achievement/opportunity gap, " (p)ursuing improvement is not a substitute for end impoverishment. Both have to be tackled together...we have to commit more resources (human and capital) (p. 4, 8)" If we continue down this path we will further marginalize those already occupying the margins and continue to undermine trust and hope in democracy as the rightful alternative to oligarchy. In addition, when did the sole focus on teaching and testing lower-order thinking skills become the appropriate route to civilization's progress?
Submitted by Sir Frederick Mercury (not verified) on November 10, 2012 10:06 pm
Paolo Freire: Announcer: Welcome to the final event of the American Educational Research Association. Our final Rap Battle is between Paolo Freire and Alene Ackerman. Winner Take All! Sikenaw. Paolo: Arlene, you’re a Queen. It’s Obscene: You are mean. When I met you I drank so much I ArIene’d. Ackermen: Paolo, my friend, you’re a mangy-ass mess: You wrote some shit about the Opppressed Excuse me and Archie while we undress. Paulo: Your clothes are horrible Your hair is starchy You’re so alone You sext Bob Archie. Arlene: You’re annoying. You’re depressed. No on reads your books except bell hooks. Paolo: You’re so proud of your Ivy League: Bottom line you only got an Ed.D. Arlene: You laugh at my ass But I got paid. Paulo: But who got laid?
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on November 12, 2012 12:08 am
This is an open letter written by William Ayers to President Obama post election: "... You have declared your support for a deep and rich curriculum for all students regardless of circumstance or background, and yet your policies rely on a relentless regimen of standardized testing, and test scores as the sole measure of progress. You should certainly pause and reconsider. What’s done is done, but you can demonstrate wisdom and true leadership if you pull back now and correct these dreadful mistakes. In a vibrant democracy, whatever the most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what we as a community want for all of our children. Arne Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (as did our three sons); you sent your kids to Lab, and so did your friend Rahm Emanuel. There students found small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the far limits, and a minimum of time-out for standardized testing. They found, as well, a respected and unionized teacher corps, people who were committed to a life-long career in teaching and who were encouraged to work cooperatively for their mutual benefit (and who never would settle for being judged, assessed, rewarded, or punished based on student test scores)." I hope the president - and Arne Duncan - read the "open letter" and halt "Race to the Top" and create a system worthy of their children.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 12, 2012 1:01 am
Just ignore the failure over four decades of the Chicago, or other urban systems, to deliver even a basic level of literacy through the unionized pure public monopoly system. This is why we now have the testing regime- it is a crude tool to address even cruder performance. Ayers is right that the CLS teachers should not settle for being judged by their students test results. They are already being judged by the Obamas, Emanuels of the world who send their kids to that school! That is the most effective way to weed out low performers. But that doesn't work on the southside, or any school without a concentration of politically powerful, highly educated parents. Pretending otherwise- that whatever works at CLS works on the Southide- is quite simply a lie.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on November 12, 2012 5:56 am
And what is your basis for saying that what works at CLS will not work on the Southside? Are you saying students on the Southside are inherently intellectually inferior to CLS students? Your position ignores the affects on students on the Southside of living in homes with low incomes and unemployment. "Weeding out low performers" (The language is very telling. Should any child be considered a "weed" based on their circumstances of birth.) is code for a call for a return to segregation based on class.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 12, 2012 7:04 pm
Just ignore that person. He/She is beyond help.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 14, 2012 1:13 am
Sure, some of what works at CLS will work elsewhere. I was talking of weeding out low performing teachers... CLS teachers didn't need testing because there was another mechanism for holding them accountable- active, engaged, politically powerful parents. Southside does not have politically powerful, active, engaged parents to monitor the quality of education. This is just a simple fact. So pretending that what works at CLS will work in the Southside is a lie.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on November 13, 2012 8:47 am
Yes we know tests are one dimensional. Blaming a huge government grant is pretty bizarre. O.K. let's get rid of the huge grant, it's only caused corruption extraordinaire. This article is great testimony to this great way to help fix the Federal deficit. Most of the blame for using the tests we have now, can also go to the States for not taking enough time to create a better standardized evaluation. They were given the responsibility and freedom to create their own after all. Teachers know that good test scores are a by-product of effective teaching, not the goal. The corruption is not the fault of the legislation/grant; In other words, "teaching to the test" is not effective, and does not produce good scores. Don't we already know this?
Submitted by Melinda Smith (not verified) on November 15, 2012 1:09 am
And it is sad to note that many school districts, to create more intensity of test preparations, have curtailed, or even removed, classes that encourage innovation, imagination, creativity, and intellectual discussion. network ripoff

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