The Wrong Way to Measure Education

Questions arise over the value of testing in education

City Hall trumpets that test scores show  New York City's 1.1 million school children are making vast strides in learning. But there are serious doubts that this is what's really happening. 

It hasn't been widely publicized, but a new study of the school system by a group of scholars, teachers, parents and advocates shows that the great test results aren't what they're cracked up to be. Indeed, one wonders what's really going on. 
The new study, titled "NYC Schoools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know," raises serious questions. At question as these educational experts see it, is what value does testing have in furthering education?

Cited in the report is the warning by sociologist Donald Campbell that the higher the stakes, the more likely behavior contrary to the original intent of the measurement system will result. Campbell warned that the more testing is relied upon to make important social decisions "the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." This became known as Campbell's Law.

Thus, when children are promoted on the basis of testing, when teachers are rewarded for training kids to pass tests with high grades, when principals are rewarded for having higher and higher test scores, corruption of the system may well occur. Indeed, the other day, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the State's Board of Regents, told me that too many young people are graduating high school without basic skills. She asked: ''Are the tests really telling us how well the educational system is doing?''

So the state's top educator, while praising Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for trying, is still skeptical of the testing process. When three-fourths of the young people who reach college need remedial work to qualify for courses, she believes, there's something wrong. 

Steve Koss, a contributor to the study and former high school math teacher, says: "With such intense focus on standarized exam scores, it is increasingly difficult for public school teachers in New York City to keep in view the larger goals of developing their students' critical and creative thinking skills. Rather, the system operates on a politicized platform that serves the interest of adults, from the mayor and chancellor to principals and teachers.''  

Koss, in his essay, quotes from Tom Chapin's song "Not on the Test" to describe what's happened to the public school system: 
"Go on to sleep  now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and math, forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test."

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