EDITORIAL: Five Reasons to Stop the Madness, Part Two
From what I can gather, there are two politically distinct groups that oppose the ever-more-invasive role of standardized testing in U.S. schools. Many conservatives oppose the imposition of the Common Core curriculum and testing system; they see Common Core as another frightening step towards centralized federal control of K-12 education; they complain that it is yet another underfunded federal mandate on local school districts; and they oppose the data collection that comes along with centralized testing systems. (Here in Colorado, educators avoid using the term Common Core; the program is referred to, rather, as ‘Colorado Academic Standards’ and the required testing as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)
On the left, we see progressives opposing standardized testing for some of the same reasons, but also because they perceive Common Core and its predecessor program, No Child Left Behind, as attempts to diminish the power of teachers unions, and as unhealthy centralized control of teacher assessments — assessments that, they feel, are more properly the purview of local school boards and administrators. (Since the adoption of Common Core, Colorado now requires teacher evaluations be based largely upon PARCC test scores.)
Yesterday in Part One I shared a few thoughts about two problems that were made evident by the Augenblick Palaich and Associates (APA) report to the HB14-1202 Standards and Assessment Task Force. My research was inspired by an article posted by PARCC critic and former Jefferson County school board member Paula Noonan, entitled, “Augenblick Palaich final 1202 report massages standardized test cost calculations”.
The first problem, of concern to many, is the cost of Common Core in actual dollars. Here in Colorado, we’ve seen a reduction in school funding since the 2008 global financial crisis, and it’s valid to ask whether Colorado can actually afford to be part of the PARCC testing program. (As far as I can tell, the promoters of Common Core have yet to present any evidence that their expensive system produces any educational benefits at all. What it obviously produces, on the other hand, are added costs — in payments to large multi-national testing consortiums.)
The second problem, discussed yesterday, is the cost in lost instructional time. My (admittedly amateur) calculations show that, based on the APA report and other available government statistics, teachers and students in Colorado are now spending up to 24 percent of their core-subject hours preparing for and taking standardized tests. Unfortunately, because of the time-lag in getting back test results, these tests are of dubious value to the classroom teacher, and of even less value to students and parents. (We know, meanwhile, whom the testing program truly benefits.)
Another question addressed by the APA HB14-1202 report was the “impact’ of standardized testing on local school resources. The report then questioned whether the “benefits” generated by various standardized tests were worth the cost. The answers to these questions resulted from responses from 212 school administrators (about 12 precent of the administrators in Colorado) and from 1,800 teachers (about 4 percent of the state’s teachers.)
The consultants at APA asked district and school administrators to indicate the level of impact that each assessment had on the following areas: (1) technology; (2) logistics management; (3) other staff time; (4) direct costs; and (5) schedule interruption. Similarly, teachers were asked to score the level of impact of assessments on technology and schedule interruption.
The above chart shows the impacts of each Colorado assessment test on classroom scheduling. As we can see, Colorado’s teachers view the interruptions as more damaging than do the state’s administrators, for every one of the required state tests.
And the above chart shows the impacts of Colorado assessment tests on
As we might note, in every case of impacts, the teachers and administrators surveyed thought the Common Core-based CMAS and PARCC tests were the most intrusive.
APA also surveyed teachers and administrators on the presumed ‘benefits of assessments’. These benefit areas included: (1) instructional; (2) accessing content mastery; (3) accountability/comparison purposes; (4) evaluation; and (5) feedback to families and students. District and school administrators were asked to rate assessments in all five areas, while the teacher survey focused on rating the benefit of assessments for instructional, assessing content mastery and feedback purposes.
The above chart shows how teachers and administrators ranked the ‘benefits’ of each assessment test related to improvement in student instruction. Once again, the Common Core-based CMAS and PARCC tests stand out — especially in the opinions of teachers surveyed — as showing little benefit to students (benefits of less than “2” on a scale of “5”).
APA also asked teachers and administrators to do an overall evaluation of the various tests, and tell us if the negative impacts were worth the benefits. In the chart below, we can see that the majority of Colorado teachers (63 percent) felt the national ACT test was worth the costs and impacts. And we can just as easily see that the vast majority of teachers (83 percent and 80 percent respectively) felt the CMAS and PARCC tests were not worth the cost.
The ACT test was, in fact, the only required standardized test where a majority of the 1,800 Colorado teachers surveyed felt the benefits outweighed the costs and impacts.
So we have at least four documented reasons for Colorado legislators and the Colorado Department of Education to discontinue the current regimen of annual standardized tests. They are too expensive and drain financial resources. They take up valuable instructional time. They don’t provide significant feedback in a timely manner. And most teachers in Colorado feel they aren’t worth the costs.
Strangely enough, no one — no agency, no research study — has ever documented compelling reasons to continue along the current path. To my knowledge, standardized testing has never been proven effective in improving anyone’s education. It has proven costs, without any proven benefits.
One final reason why Colorado school districts ought to stop the testing madness, and I think it’s a compelling reason. Centralized control of education is dehumanizing, for teachers and students. Centralized control can be imposed equally forcefully by distant government bureaucrats and by national teachers unions, and both types of bureaucracies are deadly to the lives of children, and to their futures. Once you destroy the morale of the teachers and students by making them into assembly-line drones, nothing beneficial can arise in our public school classrooms.
My father taught in the public schools his entire working life, and continued to serve as a substitute teacher following his retirement. He finally stopped teaching for health reasons in his mid-80s. I believe he embodied the typical teacher’s attitude about public schools: that every student should be encouraged to reach his or her highest potential. He also embodied another attitude that seems to be quickly disappearing here in America: that teachers are intelligent, dedicated and creative individuals capable of discovering the best way to teach each individual student — without needing the federal and state governments to poke their fat, standardized noses into the classroom.
My father has now passed away, but I suspect, if he were treated the way our current teachers and students are being treated, he would walk away in frustration, and disgust, from the job he loved so much.
Standardized tests, sadly enough, can measure only the least important details of a child’s education: facts and rote skills stored (temporarily at least) in his or her head. No matter how they are devised, standardized tests cannot measure the aspects of education that are truly the most important. Love for one’s neighbor. Self-discipline. Creativity. Respect for other people’s opinions. Joy. Excitement about the future. A desire to help one another.
Standardization only gets in the way of what we, as humans, value most.