Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition sent this commentary by a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, retired Judge A.J. Wagner..
State Board of Education member A. J. Wagner weighs in on testing
Retired Judge A. J. Wagner, member of the State Board of Education, shared his views in a letter to Senator Peggy Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee and the members of an ad hoc committee she appointed to examine issues regarding the current testing debacle. His views are worthy of a read.
Dear Senator Lehner and Members of the Committee:
I am writing to you to share my opinion which is formed by the February 2015 Policy Memo from the National Education Policy Center on “Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies.” I urge you to carefully consider the analyses and recommendations in this Memo.
A compelling body of research exists about the problems with test-focused reforms, as described in the Memo. (available online athttp://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/esea). Key concerns include:
i) Research suggests at least two major problems with test-driven school reforms. First, the tests themselves have validity issues. The resulting scores are only loosely linked to the wide array of topics and depth that we all want for our students. So attaching high stakes consequences to those test scores results in decisions being made on weak data. Second, and probably even more important, when we attach high stakes consequences to test scores we change what and how our children are taught. This is not always bad, since much of what is tested is indeed important. But the overall effect is to narrow our children’s learning opportunities, squeezing out important and engaging lessons.
ii) Not surprisingly, then, we now face the failure of more than a decade-and-a-half of test-focused reforms. Even though we’ve been focusing on the content of our tests and even though we’ve been preparing students to demonstrate knowledge on tests, the testing trends after No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) implementation are almost identical to the trends before NCLB’s implementation. Not only did we come nowhere near the NCLB goal of almost-universal proficiency on standardized tests, we gained no benefit at the cost of broader, deeper learning – and at the cost of pursuing evidence-based practices that could have helped our children.
I urge moving away from test-focused reforms, and to a state role that encourages a focus on sustained and meaningful investments in practices shown to be effective in improving the educational opportunities and success of all students, particularly those in highest need. There are no magic wands, and the formula for success is very straightforward: children learn when they have opportunities to learn; closing opportunity gaps will close achievement gaps.
Key recommendations from the Memo include:
i) Assess students, teachers, and schools using frameworks that paint a more robust, accurate, and complex picture, with multiple data sources and scientifically credited methods of analysis. For example, for students, we might look at authentic performance assessments (http://fairtest.org/k-12/authentic assessment), and for schools, we might look at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s “Time for Equity Indicators” (http://timeforequity.org) or the National Education Policy Center’s “Schools of Opportunity” criteria (http://opportunitygap.org).
ii) Enrich opportunities through proven interventions such as high-quality early-childhood education beginning before birth. Extend learning time in ways that engage students, rather than just more time on drill-and-kill test preparation. Demand more of our schools, but only when providing the supports for students and teachers to succeed. Address problems not only at the level of individuals, but also at the level of systems. Test-focused reforms detract attention from deeper and more systemic factors that can hinder any student’s opportunity for success, including such factors as poverty, racial segregation, inadequate resources, narrow and ineffective curriculum and assessment.
iii) Involve students, families, educators, and educational researchers in more substantive ways in decision-making processes involving educational policy and reform. It is particularly important to have powerful, listened-to voices arising from the communities that have been targets of educational reform.
This is a brief summary of the Memo, a document supported by over 2000 researchers and professors from colleges, universities, and other research institutions throughout the United States. I urge you to, please, consider the evidence based practices put forth by the National Policy Education Center.
My prayers and best wishes are with you for these important Deliberations.
Judge A.J. Wagner, Retired
Member of the Ohio Board of Education
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