Bruno: The "Gotcha" Mentality Behind "Take the Test"
Paul Bruno is a California-based middle-school science teacher who can be found at @MrPABruno:
Critics of standardized testing have begun urging education officials to take the same tests they require of students and to make the results public. This movement began back in early December when Valerie Strauss published the story of a school board member who struggled with the tests and a follow-up post revealing the school board member's identity and offering links to sample test questions. Testing critics have since taken up the cause on blogs and on Twitter because, in teacher-blogger Deven Black's words, "if the tests are adequate to judge teacher ability they must certainly be able to judge the ability of the people who hire the teachers, set curriculum and allocate assets to schools."
But why is that "certainly" the case? It's not obvious to me why we should care much about how most education officials do on, say, a test of 10th grade math or why their doing poorly would constitute evidence against the use of standardized tests generally.
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I think the "Take the Test" movement maybe trying too hard to catch advocates of testing in a "gotcha," possibly at the expense of good messaging. If we don't articulate why public officials should be expected to do well on a standardized test but criticize them for doing poorly on it, I think teachers are going to end up sounding elitist to the broad swathes of the public that would also probably do poorly on the very same assessments.
And why shouldn't they do poorly on many of the tests? We should probably hope that people in 10th grade would do well on a 10th grade math test, but after many years down career paths that do not require 10th grade math skills many adults would understandably be rusty if you sat them back down with the test. And the same is true for many education officials.
That's not an indictment of these adults or of their 10th grade math teachers, but it's also not an indictment of the test. It's just a reflection of the fact that many people's adult lives do not require some of the specific skills that are taught in schools.
The line between "policy disagreement" and "personal/professional attack" in education reform debates is crossed often enough these days as it is, and these calls to "take the test" sound suspiciously like the latter. - PB (@MrPABruno)