Two great articles about standardized tests
In the past 12 hours I’ve read two fascinating articles about the crazy world of standardized testing. They’re both illuminating and well-written and you should take a look.
First, my data journalist friend Meredith Broussard has an Atlantic piece called Why Poor Schools Can’t Win At Standardized Testing wherein she tracks down the money and the books in the Philadelphia public school system (spoiler: there’s not enough of either), and she makes the connection between expensive books and high test scores.
Here’s a key phrase from her article:
Pearson came under fire last year for using a passage on a standardized test that was taken verbatim from a Pearson textbook.
The second article, in the New Yorker, is written by Rachel Aviv and is entitled Wrong Answer. It’s a close look, with interviews, of the cheating scandal from Atlanta, which I have been studying recently. The article makes the point that cheating is a predictable consequence of the high-stakes “data-driven” approach.
Here’s a key phrase from the Aviv article:
After more than two thousand interviews, the investigators concluded that forty-four schools had cheated and that a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation has infested the district, allowing cheating—at all levels—to go unchecked for years.” They wrote that data had been “used as an abusive and cruel weapon to embarrass and punish.”
Putting the two together, it’s pretty clear that there’s an acceptable way to cheat, which is by stocking up on expensive test prep materials in the form of testing company-sponsored textbooks, and then there’s the unacceptable way to cheat, which is where teachers change the answers. Either way the standardized test scoring regime comes out looking like a penal system rather than a helpful teaching aid.
Before I leave, some recent goodish news on the standardized testing front (hat tip Eugene Stern): Chris Christie just reduced the importance of value-added modeling for teacher evaluation down to 10% in New Jersey.