How Bad the High Stakes Testing Is


Some day (soon), I’ll get back to looking at the relationship between justice and equality, but I’m interrupting myself again to offer something I consider very important as articulated by Diane Ravitch.  Here’s the part of her interview I want to highlight:

Here’s what I said to them this morning, for better or worse. I had a revolutionary moment and spontaneously, off my script, said that if I could recommend one thing to them, it would be that entire districts say, “We’re not giving the tests. We’re not giving the tests.”
The tests are flawed, they have all kinds of errors: They have statistical errors, random errors, measurement errors. Some of the questions are really stupid. And they are being used in ways they are not designed to be used. The first rule in the testing world is tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. They are being misused. They were not designed to measure teachers or to measure schools or to fire teachers or to close schools. So we need to stop all these punitive uses and to stop the labeling of children, which I think is the worst message of testing.


The fundamental thing to understand about testing is that all these tests are normed on a bell curve. And the bell curve by its very nature has a bottom half and a top half. You can never close the gap between the bottom half and the top half. It is impossible. The top half is populated overwhelmingly by children from affluent homes. The bottom half is populated overwhelmingly by children of poverty. So you have chosen to use the one instrument that reinforces inequity and made that the state policy. So the way to drive the stake through the heart of the vampire is for a district to say, as an entire district, “We’re not giving the test this year.” And if 100 districts say this, if 200 districts say it, that sends a pretty powerful message to the legislature. That we’re trying to find a better way to be held accountable, be accountable to our parents, be accountable to our students, and to figure out a better way to educate kids so they actually have an education instead of a test score.

Here’s the whole piece:

Are We Running the Wrong Way?


Former opponents Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier now write a blog together, both opposing No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the whole mess of business-driven educational “reforms” currently being inflicted upon our children and their teachers. In her latest post, Meier asks Ravitch questions about some “fact-lets” about education, and those contrasting educational reform in highly successful Finland with those in floundering America struck me as worth sharing.

Meier writes:

That Finland has consciously engaged in systematic reform now for less than 10 years, with amazing results. That suggests you can make rapid “revolutionary” change given … what? A smaller geographic and more homogeneous population? For another—as you noted the other day—if a nation has a 2 percent child-poverty rate compared with the more than 20 percent we face. And I think that latter figure, Diane, is low.

The changes the Finns made, however, are exactly the opposite as those we are engaged in. Bizarrely so. Still I doubt if the presentation by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland’s Ministry of Education at the Education Week conference this week converted many of the audience. Why not? What do you think?

The Finns start formal schooling later (at age 7) while we keep starting younger. They have no standardized tests; we keep adding more. They rely on teachers and local schools to design curriculum and assessment. They depend on getting teachers out of education schools and manage to recruit highly qualified teachers that way. They are 100 percent unionized. They have both a shorter instructional day and fewer school days a year. For students, that is. Teachers have lots of time, therefore, when they are “at work” for planning learning, preparing, reviewing, and meeting together and with families.

The blog, Bridging Differences, is here.

About Face, Forward March


Anyone who cares about public education in this country, please read this piece in the Washington Post that was written by Diane Ravitch, formerly a major supporter of No Child Left Behind. I could quibble about some of her specific suggestions and about the missing focus on elementary education, but the overall force of what she has written is wonderful to read, especially coming from someone who commands so much respect and has, she declares, seen education so differently in the recent past. Ravitch admits she got it wrong and we, as a nation, got it wrong, and she says what we need to do now to correct the mistake and go forward in the right direction. Don’t miss this one. It’s here.