There’s an oft-repeated critique of the education policy overhaul Indiana’s seen in recent years.
An increased emphasis on exam scores, the line goes, has created a “one-size-fits-all accountability system [that] pressures school districts to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to the test” — a charge many testing supporters call unfair.
One scholar at a think tank that generally supports the increased testing says it’s time to address the claims of the “typical anti-test crowd” head-on.
“While some of these claims are probably overblown, many of them are true,” writes Morgan Polikoff on the Fordham Institute’s Common Core Watch:
(Polikoff is specifically addressing the federal accountability requirements spelled out in the No Child Left Behind law. As lawmakers debate changes to the law, the Obama administration has given many states — including Indiana — waivers from NCLB’s requirements. In that context, Polikoff argues for changes to states’ school accountability systems.)
Our failure to evolve NCLB and its accountability policies has led to a host of negative unintended consequences, including the aforementioned, the myopic focus on “bubble kids” just below the proficiency cut, and the endless gaming of state tests. But what too few leaders seem willing to admit is that these problems are eminently fixable. Even more importantly, they are worth fixing. While many would have us believe that there is no value in standards- and accountability-driven reform, the reality is this: In spite of poor policy design and implementation, the vast majority of the high-quality research on standards and accountability policies in general and NCLB in particular finds they’ve had some positive intended consequences. Chiefly, kids are actually learning more.
The “anti-testing crowd,” as Polikoff refers to it, has recently scored what it sees as a major win: lawmakers in Texas — where particularly vocal opposition to the state’s high-stakes exams has emerged — announced they’re considering scaling back their testing regimen.
But those who support testing say educators or parents frustrated by “teaching to the test” are misdirecting their frustration toward the exams when they should be asking tough questions of administrators.
“When school and system leaders fail to rigorously evaluate staff, spend dollars cost-effectively, or push the boundaries of the possible, reformers may decide they have to compel leaders to do these things,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess says.
As a document posted on the Indiana Department of Education’s website (during Tony Bennett’s administration) reads:
As long as the tests actually test the skills and content we want students to learn and know, “teaching to the test” should not be considered taboo. In fact, we should encourage teachers to help students meet the state standards and learn the content we believe will be fundamental to success in life.
But in an effort to hold administrators accountable, skeptics worry “teaching to the test” is actually harming students.
Standardized tests “do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking,” writes FairTest, an advocacy group.
“We know that standardized tests are useful for only one thing: testing the content included in the test,” blogs Stu Bloom.