Testing Madness and More

Biden Admin Strikes Out on Testing

Peter Greene reports on a big mistake made by the Biden Administration on education policy: A refusal to grant a reprieve from federally-mandated tests this year. This in spite of a school year made exceptionally complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greene notes the absurdity of this stubborn insistence on mandated testing:

Second, since we entered this Golden Age of BS Testing, test results have virtually never been used to actually direct resources and assistance to schools that needed it. I would also wager that no BS Test results have ever identified an actual educational inequity problem that was not already well known, though by focusing on a single mediocre measure of math and reading they may have labeled schools that didn't deserve it.

As I read this, I was reminded of a few notes regarding test results and poverty from recent years.

There’s this:

High concentrations of poverty, not racial segregation, entirely account for the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools, a new study finds.

The research, released Monday, looked at the achievement gap between white students, who tend to have higher scores, and black and Hispanic students, who tend to have lower scores. Researchers with Stanford University wanted to know whether those gaps are driven by widespread segregation in schools or something else.

They found that the gaps were “completely accounted for” by poverty, with students in high-poverty schools performing worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families.

And, turning to Tennessee, this:

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

One possible explanation for the expanding achievement gap is the investment gap among districts. That is, those districts with lower levels of poverty (the ones scoring higher on TCAP) also tend to invest funds in their schools well above what the state funding formula (BEP) generates. The top ten districts on TCAP performance spend 20% or more above what the BEP formula generates. By contrast, the bottom 10 districts spend 5% or less above the formula dollars.

Here’s some insight on the uses of testing from Mark Weber over at Jersey Jazzman:

A core concept of assessment is that tests must be shown to be valid for the purposes in which they will be used. In other words: you should make a separate argument for every proposed use of a test. A test that may be valid to use for, say, determining whether there are enough overall resources in the education system isn't necessarily valid for the purpose of determining whether a student should pass to the next grade.

One of the biggest failings in our current testing system is that we use statewide standardized tests for many purposes -- even if no one has presented an argument for those uses. Some lawmakers have argued that these tests should be used as a graduation exam or to determine grade promotion, even though most have never put forward an argument that the test is valid for that purpose. Some say test outcomes run through a statistical model should be used to evaluate teachers, again without making an argument against the many reasons that's a bad idea.

Upon learning of the news, Kentucky’s student-focused Commissioner of Education issued this statement expressing his disappointment:

Predictably, the protectors of Pearson’s pocketbook over at Tennessee SCORE had this to say:

Likewise, a Tennessee “reform” group pushing for privatization has stubborn support for testing this year:

It seems odd to me that these groups are quick to jump on the testing bandwagon, but are nowhere to be found when public school advocates push for more funding.

On the issue of funding, Nashville’s Amy Frogge (a former school board member), issued an epic series of tweets highlighting the school funding crisis in Tennessee.

Among the items she noted:

  1. Tennessee is 46th in education funding

  2. The state has $7.5 billion in various cash reserves

  3. Underfunding public schools in Tennessee is a clear choice

  4. This year’s surplus alone is likely to exceed $3.1 billion

  5. The state is at least $1.7 billion behind where it should be in school funding

In Other News . . .

State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown secured passage by a party-line vote of a bill that would take away local authority on school closures in events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Daily Memphian has more:

Kelsey’s bill also gives the governor the power to force schools open by executive order during a state of emergency. Kelsey and his Republican colleagues argued the power over schools should rest not with health officials and administrators, but with politicians.

In Arizona, the fight over school vouchers - over how big to make the state’s program - is distracting from a much more pressing issue: The chronic underfunding of schools there.


But here’s the thing: Our current debate isn’t addressing questions about whether or not vouchers foster equity or promote the common good, whether they’re good for all the children or only some of the children.

Consideration of vouchers is functioning to distract us from understanding the absurd public school funding allocations in our state and how even these funding sources are being undercut.

It’s almost like all of these issues are connected - more testing, less funding, vouchers.