I have been thinking about writing a post about the uselessness of standardized tests as a measure of learning, which I may yet do, but then discovered Peter Greene had done his own take on this timeless question: What should we measure? How? Why?

If you want a description on my dislike for standardized testing, read my latest book SLAYING GOLIATH. The tests are administered in the spring. The results are reported in September, give or take a few weeks. The “results” have no diagnostic value. They mainly serve to label children, using instruments that give advantages to those who are already privileged. The outcomes are tightly correlated with family income and education. The same kids always end up in the bottom half, year after year, test after test. And the lesson that all children learn is that every question has a right answer.

Here is a standardized test question: When will the quarantine of social life end? When will life resume, more or less to normal? The answer: No one knows.

How can we expect to teach uncertainty and indeterminacy to students when we grill them for years on finding the one right answer.

Peter Greene writes:

Lots of folks are worried about–or at least pretending to be worried about–the notion that students may lose a step or two during the coronahiatus, and that’s reasonable concern. Every teacher knows that September, not April, is the cruelest month, the month in which you discover just how much information just sort of fell out of students’ heads under the warm summer sun. This pandemic pause is undoubtedly going to set some educational goals back.

But which goals? Exactly what kind of ground do we think we’re going to lose?

Of course, the testing companies will try to convince us that our kids are in a terrible crisis, which can be solved only by more testing.

Peter warns: Please do not confuse “student achievement” and “test scores.”

But most people in education do that as a matter of course.

Look, there’s no shame in the folks at NWEA taking a wild-ass guess because nobody has data for anything like this. And there’s no shame (well, maybe there’s some) in talking about test scores on narrowly focused standardized tests. But say what you mean. Use the right words. Don’t grab a bunch of figures about the price of oranges and start making declarations about how to grow apples. Words mean things, even in 2020. Particularly as a journalist, you should use the exact, correct, accurate word. And “student achievement” is not the exact accurate phrase to use in place of “test score.”

This matters right now, first of all, because it mis-represents what people have on their minds. “Will my child fall far behind on the content? When will she learn the rest of her physics stuff? How will the school band survive all this? Will she get the knowledge and skills she’ll need in college? How will she stay in touch with her friends? How will she get better at writing when she’s doing so little? Is she going to get enough education to succeed in the future?” The list of parent and students goes on and on and on and I’ll bet you dollars to coronadonuts that very few parents have, “Oh my God! What if her standardized test scores drop!” near the very top of their list.

But it especially matters because when schools head back, folks in charge are going to need to make some decisions about what is really important, what really needs attention. If we keep letting people pretend that “test score” is the same as “student achievement,” the new school year will be immediately mired in test prep test prep test prep. The wise thing to do? Scrap the test for at least another year and focus on actually educating students.

Resources like time and focus and money and emotional fortitude are going to be limited, and policy makers, actual educators, and people with education flavored products to sell are going to be locked in debate over where those resources should be focused. “Getting test scores back up” should not be the answer. Let me remind you that even many of the reformsters have finally concluded that the Big Standardized Test isn’t really telling us anything useful about students’ futures, and students’ futures should be the number one priority going back, and that means focusing on actual education and not test scores.

Yes, that will be hard to measure. For folks worried about that, I have just one question:

Which is more important– getting students what they need, or getting them what can be most easily measured?

Read what Peter wrote and tell me what you think? Is there any way to avoid getting mired in even more high-stakes standardized tests to measure what kids supposedly do and do not know?