PURE/PAA presentation at USDE assessment hearing


The June 10 USDE “Automated Scoring of Summative Assessments” public meeting in Chicago was eerily like a Pentagon briefing for vendors on the latest weapons technology.

USDE’s Ann Whelan, who chaired the meeting, actually wrapped up the day by saying, “We need to be bold and move the industry forward.” I wondered if we should all salute as she walked out.

The meeting was about creating computer-based and computer-scored assessments, a topic that seemed to be over the heads of many attendees (including me) but most seemed ready and willing (though not exactly able) to do whatever it takes to maintain their lucrative testing contracts.

The questions about using artificial intelligence to score tests raised many questions and evoked several assertions that multiple choice tests have “gotten a bad rap” and are still a “very good way” to test a lot of things: “Nothing is as valid or reliable as multiple choice.” And I’ll bet multiple choice will look even better to these guys as soon as we see a few examples of AI scores on student essays.

The most cogent comment,in my opinion, came from my son’s former kindergarten teacher, who happened to be there, much to my delight, and who said during public comment that she and other teachers considered  summative tests to be DOA – dead on arrival. They don’t help the student, they don’t help the teacher. She urged the USDE to focus on formative tests and forget about summative tests. Amen!

The testimony I prepared for this meeting is here. However, I was only given three minutes to present my comments, even though there were only four members of the public signed up, so I just ran over the main concerns that PURE and Parents Across America have about Obama and Duncan’s “better tests.”

I addressed the misuse and overuse of standardized tests, the false promise of better tests, how standardized tests narrow the curriculum, the way CPS and others only pretend to use multiple measures, bias in standardized tests, the failure of merit pay and other schemes to link teacher work to student scores, and the likelihood that the new national tests will be hugely expensive.

Prior to the public comment period, we were told that they would not respond or answer questions, but I asked anyway:

How will they prevent districts like Chicago from misusing tests for high-stakes purposes?

How much money will all this cost – do they have any projections?

Ann gave me a thin smile and repeated that they will not answer questions, but that I could e-mail the questions to them. I have since tried all versions of the e-mail address she mentioned, none working. Am still working on that.

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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.