Focus On The Testing Assumption in Education
January 30, 2005
The schools are embedded in our culture, as are many of the assumptions we hold concerning education. Given the impact that our educational establishment has on the lives of so many... young, middle aged and senior citizens, it seems appropriate to examine several assumptions some may have relative to schooling.
Through the years, we have developed a sophisticated approach toward educational testing. In fact, American elementary and secondary schools administer more tests each year than do schools in any other country of the world. One argument posited by some, as the rationale for emphasizing such testing is that teacher judgment is not always strategically reliable. We question that argument. It is true many tests, which are standardized and yield comparable data, have a degree of sophisticated precision. It is disturbing however, that there are those who see that these tests possess an undeserved aura. To some, they are the primary source for judgments concerning the quality of education. We question the reliability of that position.
We believe that the function of schooling is not primarily to enable students to perform well on tests. But rather, the purpose of schooling is to provide a level of instruction that enable students to develop academic skills and conceptual understandings that go well beyond what any test is designed to measure. Schools should develop an appetite for learning and a student's self-motivation for success. They should strive to develop attitudes and patterns that will provide young people with a zest for continuous intellectual growth, appreciation for excellence, self-discipline and a work ethic.
There is the assumption that the best way to identify schools that are successful is to examine their test scores. We suggest that raising test scores on such narrow measures of educational achievement is no significant educational victory at all. Tests are contrived tasks that are intended to sample behavior that will make it possible to determine what a student knows and can do. Test scores are believed to be proxies for the quality of education that students have received. We suggest however, that what test scores do best is to predict results on future test scores and that is pretty much it. Think about it, we encounter such tests in only a few places outside of the context of the school. Thus, what we have done is to have designed a system that employs rare events (these tests as such) to make significant judgments about the richness and quality of education. We suggest that in addition to paper and pencil test results, schools examine the achievements of their graduates in the real world. There are examples of students achieving well on tests but have done less well in their personal and work world. And then too, there are those who have not performed so well on tests but have demonstrated a high degree of success in the world of adulthood and work.
We believe that far more creative comprehensive measures of attention need to be developed and used to determine the quality of education. To do so, one must know well the individual learner and his or her background readiness, the culture of the school, and the nature of the environment. It is complex but definitely doable. It is a comprehensive process that calls for... in addition to, pencil and paper instrumentation.... thoughtful, sophisticated teacher judgment and professional decision making
Sound strategic planning in schools today includes an examination of the basic assumption with reference to testing. Keeping this factor in mind, the potential is in place for realistic progress in planning for reliable evaluation of total learning. It is a demanding task, but with relevant evaluative data in hand, there can be RELIABLE planning primed with RELIABLE inputs. And that is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.