Cutting through the Stupid in the Debate over Annual Testing

Posted on January 14, 2015

6 Votes

Standardized test cartoon

I’ve hesitated thus far to enter into the big debate over the usefulness or not of annual testing. It continues to blow my mind that many engaged on the pro-annual testing side of the debate see the annual testing of all children in all grades as the one and only method of achieving all of the things testing, in their view, is intended to achieve, including:
The presumption is that a single method of testing – testing everyone every year in every subject – is the appropriate – the only method to accomplish all of these tasks, simultaneously.
We can’t possibly make sure no child is left behind if we don’t test them all annually every year.
And we can’t possibly point the finger of blame for a child being left behind if we don’t test them all every year, and link those testing data to their teachers and schools!
And, we can’t possibly ensure that all children are “college ready” unless we can show that each and every one of them receives near the end of their high school year, a test score on a common assessment (PARCC or Smarter Balanced) that is reasonably predictive of achieving a combined score of 1,550 or higher on the SAT!
Further, that this entire system must be built on a set of common national standards if ever we are to make valid comparisons of the quality of schooling from Tennessee to Massachusetts, or the effectiveness of individual teachers from the Bayou to Battle Creek.
The counter argument at this point seems to favor the complete abandonment of yearly assessment, and common standards all together –reverting to a hodgepodge of state and local curriculum, standards and assessments.
Missed in most of the conversation are the valid, relevant uses of student assessments, and the different uses, and approaches to using testing, measurement, large and small scale assessment in our schooling system.
Mixed in with this discussion of late is whether annual testing enhances the civil rights of children, or erodes them.
Here’s my quick run-down on a) the purposes of testing in schools, b) how to implement testing to best address those purposes, c) the right and wrong uses of testing with respect to civil rights concerns, and d) the role of common standards in all of this.

Purposes of Testing (measuring student achievement) in our Public Schools

While there are potentially many more purposes of assessment in school settings, I boil it down here to:
  1. testing for diagnostic and instructional purposes
  2. testing for system monitoring purposes (e.g. accountability)
I focus on this distinction because these two major purposes of testing are best achieved by very different approaches to and uses of testing.

Testing for diagnostic & instructional purposes (Individual)

When it comes to diagnostic testing, for enhancing the instruction of individual children and groups of children – the dynamic teacher/student interaction – we want to implement that testing in a way that allows children to move at their own pace, receive immediate feedback, and provide timely relevant Cutting through the Stupid in the Debate over Annual Testing | School Finance 101: