Thompson: Fall Testing Is A Great Idea (Even If It Comes From TFA)
Justin “Juice" Fong, who runs internal communications at Teach for America, in his blog post A Simple Idea to Reform Standardized Testing, offers the single best idea that I have heard to end the educational civil war that is undermining sincere efforts both sides for improving schools.
I just wish I had thought of it!
Fong would move testing to the beginning of the year.
Tests could then be used for diagnostic purposes, and teachers could collaboratively engage in an item-by-item analysis in the first month of school. That would help them plan for the rest of the year.
Test results could still be used as one way to assess the quality of schools. September testing would cut down on test prep, and might become a tool for preventing summer learning loss.
Fong says that the scheduling change would be a productive way to “blur the lines that directly tie teacher performance to high stakes test scores.”
Fong reminds me of a conversation with my district’s top testing experts on the eve of NCLB. They predicted, chapter and verse, the corruption of data that would be inevitable when we changed from Norm Reference Tests, that could be given early in the year, to end of the year Criterion Reference Tests. They nailed the ways that the arcane change would lead to gamesmanship or worse.
Fong’s suggestion could not come at a better time. It would provide an exit strategy for reformers facing a lose lose scenario. Staying the course on bubble-in teacher evaluations while attempting the opposite – the transition to Common Core assessments - is a recipe for disaster. Regarding both issues, it would allow accountability-driven reformers an opportunity to “declare a victory and leave.”
Advocates of Gates-style teacher quality reforms could still use test scores for incentives. Fong’s suggestion, by making it virtually impossible to use test scores to punish teachers, would build trust. This would facilitate collaborative efforts to use qualitative metrics to dismiss ineffective teachers.
Fall testing would also help reformers extricate themselves from the fatal flaw of Common Core assessments in high-poverty schools where students face graduation exams. Old-fashioned graduation tests were designed to be basic skills tests ensuring that students meet minimum standards. When those primitive tests are replaced by Common Core end of instruction tests, the dropout rates in urban districts will soar.
If Robert Hammond, Colorado’s education commissioner, is correct and Common Core leads to the “greatest assessment in the history of American public education,” its value will not be diminished by removing its punitive aspects. It would be an equally great assessment if given in the fall. If it is truly wonderful enough to be a "test worth teaching to," it will also be a test worth teaching with i.e. a tool for teaching and learning as opposed to a weapon for coercing teachers and students.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.