Monday, August 5, 2013

Testing For What?

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

NJ Spotlight is a fantastic resource for me.  They are unbiased in their approach to educate citizens on numerous topics, with education being one of them.  I recently came across an opinion piece titled Putting New Jersey's High School Diplomas to the Test.  The article focused on NJ's relentless push to increase standardized testing and institute end of course exams that students would have to pass in order to graduate.  It really got me thinking about the direction we are headed in and the negative consequences that it will ultimately have on our learners.

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It is safe to say that the situation in NJ is no different than many states across the country.  For many misguided and misinformed reasons, politicians think that the education system in the United States is not up to par.  As a result, marching orders have been sent down to each state’s DOE to hold teachers and schools more accountable.  New laws have been passed and mandates implemented with little or no input from educators.  To make matters worse, schools and educators are being asked to quickly adhere to these mandates with inadequate training, preparation, and field testing.  I am a firm believer in accountability measures that are backed by research, but less so in those that line the pockets of special interest groups.

So when and how did all of this school failure rhetoric begin?  The NJ Spotlight piece points this out with a little history lesson in NCLB:

"NCLB was a dismal failure in raising academic performance or narrowing gaps in opportunity and outcomes. But its over-reliance on mandated testing did succeed in creating a narrative of school failure that undermined support for public education and led to a decade of bad policy in the name of reform."

The ultimate goal should be to develop a love for learning amongst our students and prepare them to be successful in any college and/or career they choose.  Achievement is great and what we should strive for, but actual learning and growth is much more important.  The centerpiece of the majority of education reform efforts is standardized testing.  Students will NEVER come to school excited to take one of these tests.  They yearn for true authentic, relevant, meaningful learning experiences that inspire inquiry and the desire to learn more.  This is the key to college and career readiness in my mind.

Are we really testing students to determine if they are college and career ready? Like many others I am a bit skeptical of this.  Here is an excerpt from the NJ Spotlight piece:

"In fact there is little evidence that an exit testing policy leads to better prepared graduates, improved college participation or completion rates, or benefits to a state’s economy. Less than half the states have high stakes graduation exams, and several that did recently ended them. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “challenging standards-based exams reduce graduation and increase incarceration rates.” The study found no corresponding positive effects on employment or earnings."

If that wasn't eye-opening enough here is another piece from the article that I found as a compelling argument against graduation tests, or any standardized exam for that matter, that will be linked to a student graduating:

"Current graduation tests don’t reliably measure what they pretend to measure (“intelligence,” “academic ability,” “college readiness”), and they don’t measure at all qualities all high school graduates should have (responsibility, resilience, critical thinking ability, empathy). The new tests are not likely to be much better. They must be given over computer networks many schools don’t have and will still mainly consist of multiple choice questions that assess a narrow range of skills and curricula." 

Please take a look at the entire NJ Spotlight article for more insightful information about the road ahead. So what are we really testing students for?  I have my opinions please share yours.  Maybe this dialogue will resonate with policy and decision makers so that they can right the ship before it crashes.


  1. For more than a decade, Google famously relied heavily on GPAs and test scores when hiring new employees. After scouring the correlation between GPAs, test scores and employee performance, it now "doesn't even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone's a year or two out of school, because they don't correlate at all with success at the company. Even for new grads, the correlation is slight, the company has found."

    Google's head of HR, Laszlo Bock, concludes, "Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment."

    So what does Google look for now?

    Bock says, "You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer."

    How many schools in this country are training students to do that?

    Very, very few.

    How many schools are "artificial environments" in which the students who succeed are those who are most amenable to being "trained" and "conditioned" to succeed in such environments?

    Nearly all of them.

    NCLB is creating a lost generation.

    1. Eric and Mark - you are right on the money with this. Our students should be doing authentic work for authentic audiences. Can anyone share what the future career opportunities will be for this generation of students? The desirable predictors that appear repeatedly in social media and literature are grit, resiliency, mindset, creativity, cooperative, and passionate. I don't seem to recall any of these being identified on a scantron sheet. As I said in response to Shelley Wright's excellent post, we expend so much emotion, energy, and expense on things that contribute so little to learning. Related reading:

  2. Mark/Robert - Thanks for the comments. We have a long road ahead unless we amplify our voices to shed light on the realities associated with the testing fiasco that is quickly approaching. Our country never relied on testing the living daylights out of students and we became the world leader in innovation and ingenuity.

  3. Very informative post. Keep up the good work. I would really look forward to your other posts
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