The problem isn't standardized testing. It's how those tests are used that is the problem. Anyway, here's a little back and forth between Norman Augustine and Diane Ravitch.
High marks for standardized tests
Members of this burgeoning anti-test movement fail to grasp testing’s valuable role in motivating and guiding students and teachers. Preparing young Americans for success in the global economy will require our schools to improve, not abolish, academic standards.
Opponents of standardized tests typically rely on three basic arguments.Norman R. Augustine is chairman of the National Academies’ congressionally mandated review of U.S. competitiveness. He is a former chairman and chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp.
First, they contend that these exams detract from the larger goals of education by encouraging teachers to “teach the test.”
In a certain sense, however, teaching the test is the whole point. Exams are instruments for measuring student proficiency. And, as I’ve learned during my career in the business world, measuring something is often the best way to maximize or improve it. Economist Dan Ariely of Duke University has said: “CEOs care about stock value because that’s how we measure them. If we want to change what they care about, we should change what we measure.”
If an exam effectively gauges a student’s mastery of U.S. history or English grammar, then teaching the test is simply a matter of helping students develop that knowledge. Teachers who feel that a test ignores something essential should commit to fixing the test, not condemning the entire practice of testing.
Another oft-heard argument is that standardized tests drive educators to cheat. Teachers and administrators in the Atlanta public school system, for instance, were indicted this year in an alleged scheme of inflating their students’ test scores to avoid sanctions and secure performance-based bonuses. Not surprisingly, some education advocates were quick to blame the scandal on the tests themselves.
It should be noted that most teachers are honest, dedicated professionals. But even if this sort of fraud were rampant, it would be absurd to fault standardized tests. As Thomas J. Kane, director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, noted this spring, such a reaction would “be equivalent to saying ‘O.K., because there are some players that cheated in Major League Baseball, we should stop keeping score, because that only encourages people to take steroids.’ ”
The third argument is that high-stakes testing places too much pressure on students. This objection is not without some merit. Having visited schools in other countries where a single five-day examination can determine a student’s future, I understand how tests can sometimes constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But surely there is a sensible middle ground between such brutal practices and full-scale abandonment of standardized testing.
Finding that middle ground has never been more important, as U.S. students continue to fall far behind their international peers. In its most recent report, the World Economic Forum ranked U.S. math and science education 52nd in the world. A 2009 evaluation of students in 34 developed nations found that U.S. 15-year-olds were outperformed in science by students from 12 countries. The results were worse in math: Students in 17 countries outperformed U.S. students.
To address U.S. students’ international achievement gap, the National Governors Association, in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan organization of public school officials, helped create a set of nationwide achievement goals known as the Common Core State Standards. These voluntary benchmarks in English language arts and math reflect what young Americans will need to know if they are to compete with students from China, Singapore, Finland, South Korea and elsewhere.
Instead of speaking out against the Common Core, critics of standardized testing should see this reform effort as an opportunity to make testing better. Educators have an indispensable role in creating tests that do justice to student achievement while rewarding skilled teachers.
Raising standards should be the primary goal of education reform. Those who argue against standardized testing are not only misguided but are also leading U.S. schools and students in precisely the wrong direction.
Test Defenders Feeling the Heat from Test Critics
This from Diane Ravitch:
The Washington Post has an opinion piece today by Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, defending the regime of standardized testing and high stakes that has created a vigorous opt-out movement among parents, teachers, and school board members.
This is actually a victory for the critics of high-stakes testing because it shows that those in power now find it necessary to defend their harmful policies.
And defend he does, with a varied assortment of cherry-picked and obsolete data.
He quotes Dan Ariely of Duke, for example, to defend the measurement-matters-most claim, but doesn’t realize that Ariely was a member of a panel at the National Research Council that issued a report critical of test-based accountability. In his writings, Ariely emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation, not rewards and punishments. He opposes merit pay. He said that test-based accountability fails because it treats people like “rats in a cage.”
Augustine chooses to cite the 2009 PISA test results but ignores the 2012 TIMSS results, where American students did very well indeed. In fact, eighth-grade black students in Massachusetts performed as well on TIMSS 2012 in math as students in high-performing Finland. But you won’t read that in Augustine’s column.
Why don’t American schools copy the examples of our own top-performing schools, like Sidwell Friends and Lakeside Academy and other elite schools that never give standardized tests? Or copy our top suburban schools where the tests are minimized, and all students have the arts, history, civics, physical education, foreign languages, experienced teachers, and small classes?