Better tests? Better get some better answers first. Part 1

Here’s part 1 of my follow up to last week’s post about common core state standards and the developing related national assessments.

This week has seen a major flap over the Obama administration’s plans for testing under a new ESEA. The brouhaha started with remarks by President Obama at a student forum on March 28. In answer to a student’s question about whether there could be less testing, the President went on a riff against standardized tests and over-testing which brought back some fond memories of 2008 candidate Obama.

He railed that we’ve “piled on” too many standardized tests. He asserted that such tests should be given only “occasionally” as is the practice at his daughters’ private school, and even then shouldn’t have high-stakes attached. “Too often,” he said, “what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.”

Well, a few people found it remarkable to hear this strong anti-test rhetoric from a president whose Department of Education is prepared to expand standardized testing to unprecedented levels in its proposal for reauthorizing federal education laws.

Most notable was what teacher Anthony Cody wrote about Obama’s response on his Education Week blog, Living in Dialogue, where he concluded that, “Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.”

Almost immediately, someone from the Dept. of Education contacted Cody, asking him to post a “correction” to his “misinterpretation” of the President’s remarks.

Cody, who is a co-organizer of this summer’s Save our Schools March, came back with four questions for clarification, which the USDE’s press person eventually answered. You really need to read the whole exercise in bureaucratic doublespeak here.

But the upshot of the USDE’s argument is that we will have better tests. More formative assessments as opposed to one-shot tests. Tests of critical thinking as opposed to bubble tests. Growth measures as opposed to year-to-year apples and oranges comparisons. A “new generation of tests.” Tests scored by computers! Better tests.

At best, our children’s futures depend on that promise being real and realizable.

OK. So what are the odds that we will really have better, more accurate and helpful tests?

Here’s just one description of these “better tests” by a report by the International Center for Leadership in Education:

A new, next generation assessment program will accompany the Common Core State Standards. These assessments range far beyond the usual multiple-choice and short-answer questions. Instead, students will have to apply their knowledge to real-world situations through performance events…. Some performance events will take weeks to complete. These performance events will move instruction and assessment from Quadrants A (Acquisition) and B (application) to Quadrant D (Adaptation).

So, the odds are not too good. More in Part 2.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.