New York Times Editorial
June 19, 2008 - To get the well-educated, highly skilled workers that the country needs, states must strengthen public school curriculums, especially in math and science. States also need to adopt high-quality tests that show how students are performing from year to year.
Still there is a danger when schools focus too much attention on test preparation at the expense of high-quality classroom instruction. A disturbing new study from an influential research institute at the University of Chicago shows that that is happening far too often in Chicago schools — and likely in many others across the country.
The study, conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, looked at how Chicago high schools dealt with the ACT, the well-known college-entry examination that Illinois students are required to take as a part of the state’s testing regime.
The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test that measures what students learn at school and how well they are prepared for the first year of college. This is not a test that is easy to game. Performance depends on what students have been taught and the strength of their skills.
Some test preparation can still be helpful if kept in perspective. Indeed, students can benefit from learning general test-taking skills or becoming familiar with a specific test that they are about to take. But some schools and teachers in the consortium study went way overboard.
They required their students to spend enormous amounts of valuable class time practicing on a preliminary version of the test. By cutting instructional time, they were actually making it less and less likely that students would perform well on the test. Thinking that test preparation matters more, some students also blew off the actual course work.
The obvious cure in Illinois, and in other states, is to carefully limit or dispense with test preparation in class. Teachers should instead be working on the high-level academic skills that students need to perform well, not just on tests, but in college and long afterward.
Testing is the only real way to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness. But as the Chicago case shows, teaching to the test can be self-defeating.
The Times gets is so right, and then blows it in the penultimate line: "Testing is the only real way to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness."
This is hocum and hogwash, testing is the easy way. There are student portfolios and teacher evaluation (Report Cards?) and peer review to evaluate the evaluators.
True evaluation is never a True/False or Multiple Choice or bubble-the-bubbles solution. Test scores are not the outcome; "The well-educated, highly skilled workers that the country needs" — a successful productive reasoning society is the outcome. Folks who can read the NYT and separate the wheat from the chaff ...even there.
Give 'em a B! - smf