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Assessing Ourselves To Death

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Nailed it.

Thought provoking. Can I attempt to pin you down on something? You write: "I suspect that our relentless, expanding focus on high-stakes testing has already eroded the connection between scores and future outcomes." My question...if future studies emerge to show close correlations b/w scores on high stakes tests and future life outcomes, will you walk this one back? Cuz I think they're coming...

MG, Absolutely. Gladly. But you're not pinning me down, and there's nothing to walk back. I don't want this to happen. It's not an argument; it's a genuine concern (one that's not even remotely original). Two more things. First, remember that this is all a matter of degree. Even if the connection between scores and future outcomes is eroding, there will still be a connection. Second, even if the current situation is okay, my primary concern is over the long haul. It will be many years before this plays out (and the eventual outcomes will unfold in stages - college enrollment, college completion, employment, early career earnings, and so on). But monitoring along the way is helpful. Again, though, I'm (uncharacteristically) happy to be wrong about this. MD

Matt,Very thoughtful post. I'm getting close to arriving at your position. MG - I would not be surprised to continue to see close correlations between high stakes tests and future outcomes in studies for some time, for many reasons. First, most studies will continue to rely on lots of data collected before the high accountability context of the past couple of years. Indeed, didn't the Chetty et al study rely primarily on low-stakes testing data? This was by definition a necessity, since they were looking at long term outcomes and back tracked to historic data to predict these outcomes. Second, test scores may continue to be strong predictors because they are proxies for skills and knowledge that are not what is actually directly assessed (i.e., the content matter) but that still matter. For instance, a strong work ethic, ability to concentrate on a relatively boring task for a long period of time, problem solving skills, ability to defer gratification, goal orientation, etc. The danger is that we make false attributions about what skills, knowledge, and dispositions actually matter for long term success and skew our education programs in response to this. (This is not even getting to whole cheating issues). I'm not so sure that I agree with Matt that everyone knows that: "Educational outcomes, such as graduation and test scores, are signals of or proxies for the traits that lead to success in life, not the cause of that success." Many of the less thoughtful educators and policymakers act as if they don't fully understand this.

I must say that I really appreciate your perspective regarding the validity of high stakes testing. I think that your assessement has merit. As a veteran educator, I know that students must be given the skills that they need to function in a global economy. I am tired of American employers using the excuse that skilled labor is in short supply. The focus must shift from high stakes testing to real world skills that students can actually apply and take with them to the next level. I firmly believe that employers and schools across the country need to reaffirm the work study connection and train students to function in the twenty first century work environments. http://therealworld-teachermant.blogspot.com/

I was once like you - I believed standardized testing appropriately defined and measured what students knew and could do. After many years of teaching, I trust NO data. Students are being taught how to take tests from teachers that excel at reproducing questions that appear on state-mandated tests. Everything we do hinges on getting kids to excel at testing, sort of like in Asian countries. The only difference is our kids don't care. This is not education, it is educational perversion.

Love what you said about grad rates, that grad rates are signals and that our education system should be more concerned about what a HS diploma means rather than on how many can be awarded. One thing I'd like to add on the subject of high-stakes testing is that it's not only the schools, teachers, soon-to-be teachers, principals, and superintendents who are affected; the students, how they view learning and school, and the quality of education they receive has also been greatly affected. Listen to what a group of 4th grade public school students have to say about school, testing, and learning, (and then talk to the parents who care for them and then talk to the HS and college instructors who teach them later) and it will be become even clearer how destructive high-stakes testing is on so many levels--psychologically, intellectually, spiritually, physically.

I am a music teacher, and I believe that music study is brain-training because of the body's simultaneous engagement of both brain hemispheres during musical experiences. However, I believe it's important to examine reality. Stating that graduation is the reason for success is like saying that studying music simply makes you a better student. While there is research that implies that "music makes you 'smarter'," after a fashion, there are other studies that point to a different reason as to why school music programs have so many successful students--strong students are attracted to these programs. Strong students are willing to work hard to achieve.

Very well written. Thanks.

MD, thanks. Maybe I could ask it differently. How would we know if the connection between scores and future outcomes "erodes?" What numbers would emerge to show they're weaker than "now"?

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