“It’s no exaggeration to say that the costs of test-based accountability have been huge. Instruction has been corrupted on a broad scale. Large amounts of instructional time are now siphoned off into test-prep activities that at best waste time and at worst defraud students and their parents. Cheating has become widespread. The public has been deceived into thinking that achievement has dramatically improved and that achievement gaps have narrowed.” (Daniel Koretz, page 191.)

This a book that denounces test-based accountability systems for schools and explains why the system used in the United States does not work, gives a misleading picture of rising student outcomes, and is irrational and unworkable when used to evaluate educators and schools.

As I write this, school grades, based mostly on test scores, have been issued for the state of Florida. Typical of the crowing over improving results are statements like these:

“We continue to improve and move forward,” said Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis [Duval County Public Schools]. “Duval is like a team that wins a few more games each year, and each year we get closer to the championship. This is a district improving student outcomes every year … But seeing the improvement overall in the district tells the public that Duval County Public Schools is on the right path overall.” (Source: duvalschools.org)

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho saw an immediate justification for the tax increase. He announced during the meeting that school grades were released by the state and Miami-Dade was an A-rated district, one of only two in the state. “The news could not have come at a better time,” Carvalho said. “When I say the performance justifies it, Miami Dade Public Schools has justified their return on investment.” (Source: Miami-Herald newspaper.)

Gov. Rick Scott touted the results in a press release. “Our years of historic investment in Florida’s K-12 education system are paying off,” Scott said. “The ability to get a great public education empowers our students to live their dreams in Florida. This is why since 2011 funding for Florida’s K-12 public schools has increased by $4.5 billion.” (Source: The Tampa Bay Times newspaper.)

To which Daniel Koretz says foolishness. Improving scores are not the result of better schools, instruction, or leadership from the state; they are the result of score inflation, cheating, and poor instructional practices that focus on test-preparation instead of actual learning.

Testing alone is incapable of determining all the learning that should be taking place. At best, a test is a sampling of all the content in a domain, that is to say, a subject area. A test does not cover it all and therefore can only pretend to present an idea of how well the entire domain was taught.

Testing as done now is more limited than that. Current testing only samples two areas each year, reading and math, yet the resulting scores are used to draw conclusions about student’s learning in all subjects, including physical education and the arts.

Testing has the further problem that some types of learning are not measured by the format constraints of a standardized test.

Yet upon these scores alone we determine the performance of our entire educational systems.

Foolishness. “The core logic of reform has been to treat a small number of test scores, either alone or with minor additions, as an adequate measure of school reform.” (Page 18.)

What reform has done, through its sole reliance on testing to measure results (Grumpy Old Teacher now talking) is to cause our school systems to focus on the needs of adults rather than students. We sit in meeting after meeting reviewing test scores, talking about how to increase them, worrying about our school enrollment and that sweet, sweet juice known as school recognition bonuses if our grade falls, agonizing over how our evaluation will turn out because a significant portion is based on test scores, and complaining about how terrible the system is for us. We focus on our needs and assume that our students’ needs are the same.

Next: Part Two, Campbell’s Law, what inflates test scores, and how you can know.

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