A while back, Michelle Rhee had an article published under her name in the Washington Post criticizing parents who opt thir children out of state testing. Her main reason seemed to be that parents won’t know whether he school is doing a good job unless they see standardized test scores.

Matt Di Carlo, no fan of he opt out movement, here takes issue with Rhee. She doesn’t understand the purpose of testing, he writes.

He writes:

“For example, right at the outset, the article asserts that tests are “designed to measure how well our schools are teaching our children.”

“This is just not accurate. Tests are designed to permit inferences, however imperfect, about how well students know a given block of content (e.g., relative to other students).

“Now, of course, we as a nation also have chosen to use these data to assess schools’ and teachers’ contributions to students’ progress. Done correctly and interpreted carefully, such analyses potentially yield useful information, even if reasonable people disagree on how and how much they should be used. Regardless, an important part of calibrating and designing that role is to understand the tests and what they can and cannot do.

“Michelle Rhee is highly visible and wields vast resources. When she asserts that tests are constructed to do something they’re not, with scarce acknowledgment as to how little we know about using the data in this manner, one can understand why people feel nervous about the standardized testing enterprise.

“Similarly, later in the article, Ms. Rhee goes on to offer the claim that opt-out advocates mistakenly think tests “are designed to pass judgment on students,” and responds that the truth is “quite the opposite” – i.e., that tests are “an indicator of … whether schools, educators and policymakers are doing their jobs.”

“While “pass judgment on students” carries negative connotations (and thus strikes me as a kind of a straw man), the truth is that tests are, at least in many respects, designed for this purpose – to assess (again, imperfectly) students’ knowledge of the material. Moreover, to reiterate, using testing data to draw inferences about the performance of schools, educators and policymakers is enormously complex and difficult.

“This distinction between the measurement of student versus school/educator performance is not semantic (and their conflation not at all confined to this op-ed). The flawed assumption that testing results are, by themselves, indicators of school/teacher performance is poisonous to both education policy and the debate surrounding it, It is, for example, reflected in the consistent misinterpretation of testing data in our public discourse, as well as the painfully crude, sure-to-mislead measures of NCLB.”

Matt is a middle-ground kind of guy. He is always reasonable.

But now, I think, parents are not feeling reasonable. Many believe that their children are cheated of a good education by the current obsession with testing. Many feel that the stakes are too high and the pressure on children and teachers robs schools of the joy of learning. High-stakes testing is out of control, and reasonable people recognize it.

I think they are right.