Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Testing Times: What Would Hargreaves Do?
I don't bring my children up very often, but I want to today. The reason? They're living policy right now. There smack in the middle of the season when public educators all but stop educating in order to implement a standardized testing regime. Honestly, I'm not sure if my kids are doing the state-mandated tests this week or some other testing program that our district has also implemented, so it's a good thing the district provides this handy table to keep us all up to date. These aren't the only assessments children in our school district perform. These are just the standardized, district-wide and state-wide assessments. My kids' teachers quiz them and test them and have them complete projects all the time. Obviously, those are also assessments
These days, pretty much everyone who looks closely at standardized testing understands that there's too much of it. It's time when the students aren't engaged in project-based learning or interacting with one another, playing a musical instrument, building something, experimenting, learning to paint or sculpt or sing or act or write poems or stories or resolve conflicts or reenact historical events or practice coding or even just playing. It's not that standardized testing doesn't have a purpose. It can be a particularly useful tool for revealing inequities and places we should target improvement efforts. Standardized testing routinely confirms that the wealthiest school districts have more students likely to succeed on standardized tests. Most people agree that's not because those students are inherently smarter; rather, it's because the families there and the schools that serve them are all simply better off.
Nevertheless, there's bi-partisan agreement today that we may have gone overboard on testing. So, what's the solution?
A couple of weeks ago, Boston College education professor Andy Hargreaves spoke at the City Club, and the Q and A opened (as it has many, many times) with a question from City Club stalwart and newly elected member of the state school board Meryl Johnson.
At about 30 minutes in, you can hear Johnson's question on the issue of standardized testing, and asked, frankly, for help in making her case against the current testing regime. Hargreaves noted that the highest performing nations use tests prudently. Finland has no standardized test, he said. Instead they do sampling with tests for monitoring purposes. (His analogy was the following: to test my blood, you only need a small sample; you don't need to take all the blood out of my body and test that.) After implementing a great many tests, Singapore reduced their testing to a single test in all pre-college education. The Canadian province of Ontario did something similar. He continued, "A winnable victory is probably to say we don't need to test everybody on everything all of the time. That will undermine what we're trying to achieve. Take two grade points, three and six, and test there."
The point, he said, is that "we have a lot of technical knowledge and worldwide experience about how to improve testing and make it more prudent and less costly…"
In other words, if what we're looking for is useful data to help us determine what to teach and if the instruction our teachers are providing is strong enough to prepare students to participate in the workforce and civic life, then we can get that by testing less frequently but in smarter, more efficient ways. And the best part, it seems, is that we don't have to figure it out for ourselves. The nations that routinely beat us on the international tests can show us the way.