Overall, I want less testing and more learning. In 2015, the Council on Great City Schools found that students in our largest urban public school districts spend 20-25 hours of the school year taking tests. That is way too much time.
While I fundamentally believe that we get better when we reflect on our progress, I don’t think our current testing regime creates a situation where our teachers and administrators can do that very well. MCAS scores aren’t available until the fall of the following year, which means that my kid’s teacher can’t use my kid’s scores to help my kid get better at reading or math. At the teacher-level, evaluations based on standardized test results are so unreliable that it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise. Similarly, at the school-level, proficiency rates are so highly correlated with the average socioeconomic status of the student body (r = ~ .70; Sirin, 2005; White, 1982) that our state’s school accountability system isn’t doing much more than identifying low-SES schools for intervention.
I’d rather see us allocate the money we currently spend administering and scoring high-stakes standardized tests to programs and initiatives designed to support low-SES schools. I’d also like to see us be more selective about the assessments we administer. Teachers and administrators are drowning in data, and I believe we should empower them to select the assessments they believe give them the best information on our kids and their practice in the least amount of time.
That said, I do think standardized tests can be a useful way to benchmark progress against our values. When No Child Left Behind was first passed, it was heralded by organizations like the NAACP for requiring schools to document achievement gaps by race, SES, language, and special education status. I thinking documenting progress and gaps over time is important, and I think standardized tests are one way to do it. But they’re not the only way. I’d love to see us weigh the pros and cons of different options and to make a commitment to collect the best data we can in a manner that’s far less onerous on our kids and their teachers.