The arguments over whether Kansas is funding an adequate education for Kansas children have mainly focused on test scores as the scale to grade school quality. Defenders of the Kansas Legislature underfunding point to NAEP scores that have remained mediocre over time. Advocates for more spending point to an increase in state assessment scores when funding went up, and a recent decline when funding was cut.
Educational test results are misused by both sides in a manner that recalls Mark Twain’s comment about “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Student standardized test scores have been mis-used to judge students, teachers, principals, schools and state systems.
But test scores are not an indicator of good schools. And nobody knows the limitations of tests better than Harvard Professor Daniel Koretz, an expert in testing.
In his book for teachers, “Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us,” Koretz explains his frustration with folks who move into a neighborhood and ask him to identify good schools, because as an expert on testing, he obviously would know. While tests scores are not irrelevant, he advises parents to look at many more factors: music and athletic programs, special curricula, the variety of teachers and students, etc. He tells them to visit the school to observe the student engagement, teacher professionalism, school-wide enthusiasm, and “spirited discussion among the students.”
Unfortunately, we hear little to nothing about these complex factors that spur intellectual growth in our wide variety of schoolchildren. Instead, combatants in the Kansas school funding case, similar to Koretz’s friends, want a simple criteria: test scores. His reply was simple: “If all you want is high average test scores, tell your realtor that you want to buy into the highest-income neighborhood you can manage. That will buy you the highest average score you can afford.”
I use Koretz’s book to train my student teachers how scores on high-stakes tests do not tell us all we need to know about student achievement or school quality.
But I constantly run into another myth: “The public demands accountability!” Supposedly, everyone in Kansas is only concerned that their child gets high scores on a narrow range of standardized tests in language arts and math. I don’t think so.
The parents I know are interested in having teachers who will care about their child. Who will help them to develop good habits as young ladies and gentlemen. To guide them to be honest. To treat others fairly. To enjoy some art and some music. To develop their different talents. And to respect other students who are different.
The last 15-years of No Child left Behind test-and-punish has narrowed our children’s education, driven many good veteran teachers from the profession, and discouraged a generation of students from entering the teaching profession.
The core of this problem is the external testing. Teachers have been giving their own customized tests as part of their internal teaching and for their own use to determine how best to teach their students. Teaching-to-the-test never became a problem until the test was externalized as state “assessments.” This in turn drove standardized teaching with the one goal of every student scoring higher on the uniform test.
Students come into our classes unique. They should graduate out unique. Instead, external one-size-fits-all tests have driven much classroom teaching for over a decade with disastrous results.
Anyone who had taken a course in “Tests and Measurements” would have understood the severe limitations of testing. But ironically, this is the very course that many Schools of Education dropped from their curriculum long ago. Had they continued teaching the limitations of tests, as Koretz does today, perhaps we would never have gotten into the NCLB testing addiction that continues today under ESSA.
Similar to my colleagues, I have more students who hold up a hand and ask: “Is this going to be on the test?”
I simply reply: “No, it is much more important than that.”