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Thompson: Bill Tucker's Incomplete Tally Of Testing Costs

Greek_PhalanxI have no idea how much America spends on testing, and neither does the Education Sector's Bill Tucker.  Tucker's "The Truth About Testing Costs" listed some costs and problems with testing but ducked the real issues. Tucker should have evaluated the learning time wasted on preparing for tests that do not align well with meaningful ideas and skills, and to estimate the price tag for the time devoted to ineffective test prep.  A complete estimate of the costs of testing would include  the billions of dollars of computer systems and the opportunity costs of transforming digital technologies into systems for command and control. Another big cost is the diversion of professional development investments to training educators how to jack up their scores. Standardized testing is the point of the spear in our educational civil war, and it has made our fratricidal conflict more costly. (By the way, Tucker also called for an end of "vitriol." This is the same Bill Tucker who wrote in a previous post, Scholarly Discourse, that "Tea Party activist Education historian Diane Ravitch, agitating educating her 20,000+ Twitter followers about readiness assessment programs ...?") - JT (@drjohnthompson)Image via.


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Two quick responses:

1) You complain about "learning time wasted on preparing for tests that do not align well with meaningful ideas and skills." If your primary concern is that we have not invested in high-quality assessments that DO align well with meaningful ideas and skills, then we agree. I concluded with almost the same concern: "states might spend less money on testing, but pay the high nonfinancial costs, such as a misguided focus on low-level instruction, of lower-quality assessments." On our blog, I explained my methods and reviewed research on testing costs (http://www.quickanded.com/2011/10/how-we-calculated-state-testing-costs.html).

2) In my other post, I contrasted Ms. Ravitch's tweets about kindergarten readiness assessments with an actual description of the idea by progressive journalist Dana Goldstein. I'm obviously no John Stewart, but there's a difference between vitriol and satire. More to the point, would you care to defend Ms. Ravitch's characterization as either responsible or accurate?

Ravitch: "Don’t let ignorant politicians impose testing for 5 year olds! It’s happening. Promoted by Testing Zealots in DC & state capitols."

Goldstein: "That said, I’m cautiously enthusiastic about this latest, early childhood-focused round of Race to the Top, and here’s why: the model the administration has in mind for pre-school assessment is low-stakes for individual teachers and students and measures not only academic performance but also children’s social, emotional, physical and artistic readiness for kindergarten.

Maryland has perhaps the most advanced pre-K assessment tool in the country, and one the Department of Education is pointing to as an example. The state’s “Model for School Readiness” requires incoming kindergarteners to be assessed in seven “domains of learning”: language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts, physical development and social and personal development. Teachers perform the assessment by looking at a child’s drawings and writing, watching the child attempt to identify letters and numbers, and observing the child playing and interacting with both peers and adults.

The purpose of the system is to improve instruction for kids, not to reward or punish individual educators."


I support improved tests. My "primary concern," however is the human costs of our current,primitive testing system. If you actually taught in an inner city school, and witnessed the unintended damage caused by bubble-in accountability,I think you'd be more amenable to the wisdom of "First, do no harm."

Similarly, I was pleased to read Goldstein's cautious optimism in "Risks and Potential Rewards of Pre-K 'Test.'" It is very consistent with my concerns about your presentations in Ed Week and your blog where you consistently downplay the risks of bad tests and bad testing policy. As I have often argued, if you would join traditional reformers like Diane Ravitch in opposing NCLB-type testing systems, that would be very helpful in devising and implementing better tests. Why do you not join Ravitch, Goldstein, and many of the rest of us in seeking low stakes tests for improving instruction and providing a Consumers Report-type system? For a nice review of Campbell's Law, which explains the inherent risks of high-stakes testing, reread Goldstein's article.

Diane Ravitch positions do not necessarily contradict Goldstein, who concluded:

"The idea [of pre-k testing]is to create a low-pressure experience. But there are still many questions in the research community about how to ensure that assessments are administered in ways that are sensitive to a child’s age and stage of development.

"What’s promising is that the acknowledged best practices in pre-K assessment are both holistic and child-centered. While Obama’s K-12 education policy calls for student test scores to weigh heavily in teacher and principal evaluation and pay, the Department of Education’s new pre-K policy heeds the advice of leading psychometricians: use test scores to help teachers better target instruction toward individual children, not to reward or punish either individual children or adults in the system.

"K-12 education policy would, in fact, benefit from bringing its own approach to testing in-line with the leading early-childhood assessment systems."

And Bill, getting back to your arguments, I am troubled that you tout the best outcomes of the best assessments, but you seem to consistently downplay the worst outcomes of the worst systems. Would you agree to your children being used as guinea pigs in an experiement that was likely to produce great benefit of one of your children, but great harm to another? As bad as NCLB-type testing has been for many or most children, imposing equally bad tests on pre-k would be even worse.

I hope that every state recognizes the folly of imposing stressful tests on young children, just like I would hope you would join us in denouncing the educational malpractice incentivized by data-driven accountability. Acknowledging those costs in your Ed Week Commentary would have been a nice start. Even better, you could make amends for insulting Dr. Ravitch by doing so now. Surely we can agree, as we seek better tests, to heed "the advice of leading psychometricians: use test scores to help teachers better target instruction toward individual children, not to reward or punish either individual children or adults in the system."

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