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Achievement ≠ Test Scores

December 7, 2010 am31 1:12 am

Growth ≠ Test Scores
Learning ≠ Test Scores
Teacher Performance ≠ Increase in Test Scores

Achievement ≠ Test Scores
Growth ≠ Test Scores
Learning ≠ Test Scores
Teacher Performance ≠ Increase in Test Scores

And those who disagree – Rhee, Klein, Kaplan, TfA, Duncan, and even Obama, they don’t really disagree. For their own kids, those that have them, they don’t disagree. For their friends’ kids, they don’t disagree. For the children of the wealthy, they don’t disagree. For the children of the upper middle class, they don’t disagree.

This is a war about poor kids and the schools and the teachers that serve them. It’s mostly poor kids who are subjected to Achievement = Test Scores, Growth = Test Scores, Learning = Test Scores, Teacher Performance = Increase in Test Scores.

And it’s not true. It’s just a formula to keep poor kids down, to attack their teachers, to close and reopen and reclose their schools.

Achievement ≠ Test Scores
Growth ≠ Test Scores
Learning ≠ Test Scores
Teacher Performance ≠ Increase in Test Scores

When you hear someone get it wrong, call them on it.

“Based, in part, on student achievement” “Do you mean test scores?”

“Perform at the same level as high achieving schools” “Schools with high test scores?”

“Their classes showed greater growth…” “You mean the test scores went up?”

Remind the world, remind our allies, and remind the anti-poor, anti-teacher, anti-public school (for the poor) test-prep demons that Achievement ≠ Test Scores, and we know it, and we’re going to say it.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 am31 5:46 am 5:46 am

    It’s true of course that there are many other types of achievement than test scores, but it seems to me important that achievement is measurable. Maybe all those people who equal achievement with test scores just need alternatives? what alternatives are there, or could be?

    • Lynne Winderbaum permalink
      December 7, 2010 am31 11:28 am 11:28 am

      Here are two more measures that don’t correlate to test scores: success in the workplace and college graduation rates. Reliance on test scores to evaluate achievement has narrowed the curriculum, wasted countless hours of instructional time on test prep and sacrificed problem solving and higher order thinking skills on the altar of cold data. As a result, skills that create an innovative and creative workforce or ensure that students who begin college earn a degree are eliminated. Just look at how our nation has fallen behind in these areas. I would suggest that measures which assess our students’ preparation for the outside world be the benchmarks. These constricting test which now dominate every decision only benefit the companies who sell them.

    • JBL permalink
      December 13, 2010 pm31 8:59 pm 8:59 pm

      Julia, you have a reasonable premise (that if we want to have a serious discussion about achievement, we need to be able to measure it), but it doesn’t follow that any particular measurement is in fact a measure of achievement. The idea of measuring achievement (and, presumably, using these measurements to inform best practices) is a good one, but the fact that we have a handy measurement (test scores) doesn’t mean that it measures anything important.

      • December 17, 2010 am31 7:21 am 7:21 am

        JBL – If test scores don’t measure anything important, what does?
        I think we are in desperate need to have some type of evaluation, and if standardized tests are the best we can do, then that’s what we should do.
        Of course people in positions of power to decide things based on test scores need to be informed about the limitations of such tests… but that it a different question.

        What I think is NOT good is when a school shows awful test results, gets criticized for it, and counters “achievement is not the same as test scores”. If you’re gonna say that, be prepared to show how other measures show achievement in your school: perhaps including before-and-after results on tests designed by the school itself, student and parents testimonies, etc.

        Lynne – while I will believe that for some jobs performance has nothing to do with standardized test results, I doubt that this is true of more skilled jobs and especially doubt that there is low correlaton between college and test results. However, the main problem with using job performance and college success as measures is that they introduce too many confounding variables and do not provide immediate feedback to teachers or students.

        • JBL permalink
          December 20, 2010 pm31 6:39 pm 6:39 pm

          Ah, I see (clicking on your link) that you are not from the USA, so it may be that some of my comments fail to make sense because they are firmly rooted in recent history on this side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, I am even less qualified to make statements about education in other parts of the world (though this doesn’t always stop me :) ).

        • JBL permalink
          December 20, 2010 pm31 6:40 pm 6:40 pm

          Hmm, and now I’ve totally butchered the threading … alas! These comments were meant to follow my longer comment below.

  2. JBL permalink
    December 20, 2010 pm31 6:32 pm 6:32 pm

    Hi Julia,

    “If test scores don’t measure anything important, what does?”
    I don’t claim anything particular about what test scores measure. My experience as a teacher is that well-written tests seem to measure understanding of material that I taught recently but that less well-written tests measure a complex combination of things, many of which have nothing to do with the mathematical ideas or modes of thinking that I try to teach, and my experience with standardized tests is sufficiently minimal that I won’t make broad claims about them. It seems to me, however, that this first question of yours is a fairly important one, and one that should have been answered *before* standardized testing was so widely expanded. After all, our school system has got along pretty well for decades, producing an impressive number of talented people, without a massive testing industry. Now, every student is tested dozens of times before graduating high school, and all sorts of important decisions are made on the basis of these test scores, but all this seems (from my perspective) only minimally informed by attempts to understand what “achievement” is that we’re trying to measure.

    You write that, “if standardized tests are the best we can do, then that’s what we should do.” I’m happy to agree to this statement, but it only prescribes a course of action if we really know that the premise is correct, and I’m (very) skeptical. Moreover, in contrast with your second paragraph, it seems to me that people support standardized testing are the ones who should be responsible for making sure that it really has some added value, and that they should be required to do this before implementing new testing regimes affecting millions of students. (Of course, this last sentence of mine would have been much more appropriate circa 2001.)

    • December 22, 2010 am31 6:52 am 6:52 am

      JBL, While I’m in Sweden, I do work for an IB school and standardized tests are therefore a major part of my work (we “teach to the test” perhaps more than any other group of teachers). In the Swedish school system, before IB, students also take nationwide standardized tests in a variety of subjects and the results on these tests are taken very seriously indeed by government at all levels. Also, my high school was James Madison in Brooklyn, so at least I’ve been through many of the NY tests myself.

      While I say we teach to the test to a large extent, I don’t find it to be a huge problem as long as the test is good. It does limit the topics I can include in the course, the test is almost exclusively based on skill rather than understanding, and we do spend too much time talking about IB-approved notation etc. Overall, however, the main gain is that the external assessment/standardized test helps me keep standards high and I can still teach for understanding (hoping that understanding will bring skill for the exam). If our results are too low for too long, IB conducts an investigation and may shut the program down, as by the way I think they did in James Madison HS before I came there.

      You say that you are sceptical that standardized tests are the best we can do, but then what are some alternative assessments that you endorse instead? Trusting individual teachers to set appropriate grades and then make decisions based on these grades is a common option, but one that in Sweden has led to an incredible inflation of grades over the last ten years as schools have been competing with each other. I don’t even trust myself to set reliable grades that reflect the same standards from year to year. We need another option.

      • JBL permalink
        December 27, 2010 pm31 5:04 pm 5:04 pm

        Hi Julia,

        Thanks very much for sharing your background. (To reciprocate: I went to Stuyvesant and I’m currently a Ph.D. student in mathematics.) I don’t know much about the IB system, but my understanding is that it is similar in some respects to the Advanced Placement system — in particular, the tests are relatively well-written, examine an established curriculum, are taken primarily by high-achieving students, and are administered by an organization for which honest assessment is not in conflict with other incentives. Is this right?

        Unfortunately, I think the four points I mentioned are missing in the case of the current standardized testing regime in the US — for example, jd2718 has documented the variety of ridiculous changes to the NY state math curriculum, and the poor quality of the tests is well-known. The tendency for local and state politicians to promote themselves heavily based on year-to-year comparisons that are frequently meaningless is in clear conflict with the goal of honest assessment. (Some of these issues are mentioned in an article from the Times that just happened to come out yesterday: )

        I realize I haven’t gotten to your question yet; more later!

  3. pbpcbs permalink
    December 27, 2010 pm31 9:05 pm 9:05 pm

    After reading the NYT story, I was left with several tufts of hair in my hands and my concerns about increasing innumeracy (especially WRT statistics) reinforced. All I can say is that if the same statistical approaches (as reported) were applied to political appointees and school administrators the concept of a “value-added” evaluation system would vanish from the educational lexicon instantaneously. How many administrators would sit still for an evaluation system that misclassified their “value-added” 25% to 35% of the time? (And will someone please explain correlation coefficients to Douglas Staiger, an economics professor at Dartmouth College…)

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