Monday, August 1, 2011

Further Reporting on Standardized Tests and Cheating Rates

The New York Times published an article in reference to the article to which I made reference a few posts ago.

I am interested in seeing where this is headed. The pressure for schools to demonstrate continually higher scores on standardized tests from year to year from their students his done nothing but increase since NCLB became the law of the land. Yes, I agree that schools in general and teachers in particular should neither fix statistics, nor help their students cheat. Yes, I agree that accountability to the public helps to ensure a higher quality of service from a school. I just think that we are going about this the wrong way. In Pennsylvania the state standardized tests are created by a private company that is in no way held accountable to the public (yeah, yeah, I know the state government could not renew their contract but that does not happen in practice and they have a de facto monopoly anyway).

The tests do not necessarily reflect anything that is actually taught in any classroom in the state. They do not report on the amount of information learned by individual students as they progress (scores for each grade are compared to scores from the same grade from previos years, not the same students as they advance). The PA state standardized tests do not assess what their creators say they assess and public policy creates situations where cheating is easy, easy to get away with, and very beneficial. Going after "these teachers" who cheat will not fix this problem as they will simply be replaced by more teachers who will be similarly encouraged to become more of "these teachers." If the policy does not change, the problem will persist.

What if we trusted continually trained and licensed professionals to create assessments tailored to determine whether the students learned the presented material? What if we did this on a local level? What if we reported the outcome of these assessments on a bimonthly basis directly to the parents of the students? What if we set time aside for parents to come in and speak directly to these trained professionals? What if parents could contact these trained professionals via phone or email whenever they wanted? The system exists. We've had public schools, quizzes, report cards, parent/teacher conferences, and open sharing of teacher contact information for many decades. It would only require trusting us teachers to do the thing that the public already trusts us to do.

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