Saturday, September 8, 2012

Are Standardized Tests Worthless? - Diane Ravitch's Blog

All of U.S. education policy is now firmly hitched to standardized test scores.

Although the President said in his last State of the Union address that teachers should not teach to the test, he surely knows that federal policy demands teaching to the test.

Test scores determine teacher evaluation, teacher salary, teacher tenure, teacher bonuses. Test scores determine whether teachers and principals are fired. Test scores determine whether schools get closed or commended.

Test scores determine whether students are promoted or held back.

A professor at the University of Texas has concluded that the standardized tests are not reliable or valid. He says they predict how students will do in the future in relation to how well they have done on the same standardized tests in the past. They do not show what students have learned.

The story begins:

“In 2006, a math pilot program for middle school students in a Dallas-area district returned surprising results.

“The students’ improved grasp of mathematical concepts stunned Walter Stroup, the University of Texas at Austin professor behind the program. But at the end of the year, students’ scores had increased only marginally on state standardized TAKS tests, unlike what Mr. Stroup had seen in the classroom.

“A similar dynamic showed up in a comparison of the students’ scores on midyear benchmark tests and what they received on their end-of-year exams. Standardized test scores the previous year were better predictors of their scores the next year than the benchmark test they had taken a few months earlier.

“Now, in studies that threaten to shake the foundation of high-stakes test-based accountability, Mr. Stroup and two other researchers said they believe they have found the reason: a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction.”

Read the whole story and re-read that last line: the tests are “virtually useless at measururing the effects of classroom instruction.”

Think of it: we have a multi-billion dollar industry that sucks resources out of the classroom, whose tests are best at predicting how students will perform on next year’s tests. The test measure each other. They are designed to do that. They demand teaching to the test.

I don’t know whether the professor’s concerns are right. Others with technical expertise will weigh in . But what was obvious before he spoke out is that these tests are not good enough to carry the weight of determining our social structure, let alone the lives of students and teachers and principals and the fate of their schools.