Like Sebrone Johnson and Jeff Smink in their recent essay supporting statewide standardized tests, we want all the students in New York’s schools to succeed.
However, we differ in how to achieve those goals and the role of high-stakes testing. Research and our experience tells us that high-stakes testing undermines efforts to improve equity, parent engagement, and student success by diverting our attention from developing educational and social reforms that increase learning.
Rather than having one test for all, we propose using multiple measures to assess students and teachers.
We agree that more can be done to improve student achievement for students who live in poverty. However, we don’t need statewide annual tests to tell us this. We know it from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and our own experience in schools.
In addition, the state’s annual exams don’t tell us what Johnson and Smink think they tell us. Because teachers don’t know what is on the test and the scores are provided after school year ends, they serve no diagnostic use. Moreover, because student scores are highly correlated with family income, the scores mostly tell us the average family income in the district, something we already know from census data. Low test scores can also be directly associated with the institutional and structural racism Blacks and Hispanics have suffered over the past several hundred years.
There are dozens of studies showing how high-stakes testing undermines good teaching as teachers focus on test prep and teaching as a profession. Nationally and locally teacher education programs report declining enrollments and veteran teachers are leaving the profession at a higher rate than usual.
Instead, we should focus on alternatives to high-stakes testing. Daniel Koretz, professor of education at the Harvard, in his new book The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, details, without jargon, how high-stakes testing harms rather than improves education. We note that while Koretz would eliminate high-stakes testing, he defends standardized testing, such as the NAEP, which tells us how states are doing compared to past years and other states.
At the close of the book he details how to devise such a system. He pulls no punches and admits that developing an appropriate and beneficial assessment system is complicated. But he urges educators, parents, students, and community members to collaboratively investigate assessment systems and methods. Following his advice, the Rochester Coalition for Public Education and Writers and Books are organizing a series of events for fall 2018 where anyone who cares about education can work to improve assessment. Daniel Koretz will also join the discussion.
David Hursh is professor of education at the Warner Graduate School of Education at the University of Rochester and a member of the Rochester Coalition for Public Education; Bill Cala is past superintendent of the Fairport and interim superindent of the Rochester City School District; Eileen Graham is founder of Black Student Leadership, member of the Rochester Coalition for Public Education and steering committee member of the New York State Allies for Public Education.