William Mathis is managing director of the National Education Policy Center and vice-chair of the Vermont Board of Education.

Mathis writes here about the inherent flaws of today’s standardized tests.

“They claim to measure “college and career readiness.” Yet, it takes no particular insight to know that being ready for the forestry program at the community college is not the same as astrophysics at MIT. Likewise, “career ready” means many different things depending upon whether you are a health care provider, a convenience store clerk, or a road foreman.

“The fundamental flaw is pretending that we can measure an educated person with one narrow set of tests. There is no one universal knowledge base for all colleges and careers. This mistake is fatal to the test-based reform theory.

“When the two test batteries (PARCC and SBAC) are put to the test, they don’t score very well. Princeton based Mathematica Policy Research compared PARCC test scores with freshman grade point average and found only 16 percent could be predicted (in the best case) by the math test and less than 1 percent by the English Language Arts score. The SBAC doesn’t have such a validity study but they say it “appears in their crystal ball.” (p.72 1). Since the future of schools and children are in the balance, this is no place for murky crystal balls…

“In the current latent traits fad, here’s how the tail has to wag:

“Knowledge can only have one line from easiest to hardest, children within a grade are equally distributed within and across all classrooms, and that all children learn the same things in the same way, in the same order and at the same time. As any parent of two or more children can tell you, that is not reality.

“Another fatal tail wagging is that no matter how important the item, if it doesn’t fit the latest test fad, it is tossed out. The result is that the test drifts off in space. This problem is made worse when politicians dangle money in front of test experts to do things with tests that cannot and should not be done, says Shavelson.

“If we redesigned our measures to address what our state constitutions and citizens tell us is important, we would concentrate on the skills that define success as a citizen, worker and human being. These which include clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem-solving, informed and integrative thinking, responsible and involved citizenship, and self-direction.

“This is not to say that standardized testing should be eliminated. It is the single uniform measure across schools. But the very standardized attributes that make them valuable cause harm to those things that are truly important for our children, and our communities.

“Since the “recommended” SBAC tests’ standards are currently set to fail about two-thirds of students, the data will wrongly and dishonestly provide fodder for school critics. In high scoring states, a mere half of students will be declared failures even though they would rank in the top 10 percent of the world. The test scores measure neither college nor careers nor success in life. They simply float free in monolithic space radiating glossy ignorance but as far as informing us about our schools, they are a cold, silent and misleading void.”

I have only one disagreement with Mathis’ keen analysis.

Given the pervasive misuse of standardized tests, our nation would benefit by having a moratorium on standardized testing of three to five years, during which time we might figure out how and when to use them, how to educate without them, and why test scores not the purpose of going to school.