Archive for May, 2011

My last post described a crisis of testing fraud in many of the big city school systems around the country.

These tests are being used to reward/punish students, teachers, schools and communities.

John Ewing, the former Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society has a great article in the recent Notices of the American Mathematical Society about the use of these tests to make decisions that effect the lives of the students, teachers schools and communities.

But using tests to evaluate teachers, schools, or programs has many problems. (For a readable and comprehensive account, see [Koretz 2008].) Here are four of the most important problems, taken from a much longer list…

4. Inflation. Test scores can be increased without increasing student learning. This assertion has been convincingly demonstrated, but it is widely ignored by many in the education establishment [Koretz 2008, chap. 10]. In fact, the assertion should not be surprising. Every teacher knows that providing strategies for test-taking can improve student performance and that narrowing the curriculum to conform precisely to the test (“teaching to the test”) can have an even greater effect. The evidence shows that these effects can be substantial: One can dramatically increase test scores while at the same time actually decreasing student learning. “Test scores” are not the same as “student achievement”.

This last problem plays a larger role as the stakes increase. This is often referred to as Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to measure” [Campbell 1976]. In its simplest form, this can mean that high-stakes tests are likely to induce some people (students, teachers, or administrators) to cheat…and they do [Gabriel 2010]. But the more common consequence of Campbell’s Law is a distortion of the education experience, ignoring things that are not tested (for example, student engagement and attitude) and concentrating on precisely those things that are.


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