Why do we let state tests drive what is taught versus: what students are interested in, teachers have passion for, or what students need for their future?
Replace Annual State Testing with 3 Quality Tests
Our current state test measures recitation of info. Yet information no longer has value post-Internet. Application and innovation are the currencies of the future, yet we don’t test for those skills. So, we get what we measure: cheap education that both under-prepares and demotivates our youth. We must demand our metrics reflect what we value.
Bay Area private schools are preparing their elementary students to problem solve. Bay Area public schools are preparing their elementary school children to take tests.
Reversing our school’s focus on state tests is the only way to ensure our children can work the dynamic jobs of the 21st century.
We Can Reduce Testing and Still Get More Data for School Accountability
The solution rests in method used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our national school tests program. You might not be familiar with it because it tests random samples of students across the entire state rather than individual schools. Random test samples is how Finland keeps schools accountable. The NAEP is noteworthy because it measures a wide range of topics like the arts, and in 2014, the NAEP will also measure technology and engineering skills. Our state currently measure none of these.
Paring State Testing Down to Three “End of School” Exams
The NAEP made a smart choice: it’s simply a matter of logistics that if you test fewer students via valid random samples, you can create more accurate tests for a broad range of topics, not just reading and math.
What is tested gets taught, and currently the arts and science are being stripped from Bay Area elementary schools under the existing testing system because they are not measured by the state.
If we randomly sample students annually in each school, coupled with end of school exams for every individual 5th, 8th, and 11th grader, we will be able to have a more accurate picture of what schools achieve and still have individual student data at key junctures.
The current state system of measuring rote memorization of unapplied facts is silently undermining public education. We need our children to be analytical, creative, and ethical. We must start measuring for these qualities.
Opening the Door to Test Innovation
When you go from testing nearly all 6 million California students every year down to 3 exams in addition to random sampling, it changes what you can do. Logistically it’s too difficult and expensive for the state to employ anything beyond multiple choice tests when testing nearly 6 million students annually.
Fewer tests is a game changer. It will allow the state to direct its limited testing dollars towards the use of deeper forms of questioning, psychometrics, new assessment technology, and even real project based assessments. In Singapore, their standardized testing focuses on writing, but also includes oral defense and a group collaborative task. No world leading school system focuses on cheap multiple choice tests.
Moving to Measuring and Thereby Promoting Real Learning
Innovation happening here in America, NYC’s School of the Future moved away from multiple choice testing of rote knowledge to performance based assessments. If California leads more effective assessments at the state level, this will directly influence what schools and teachers envision as effective assessments in their own instruction.
Test Data Can Improve Schools, but They Need to Be School Based
Chris Chiang strongly believes that the right data will revolutionize schools. The proper testing system will allow schools to meet each child’s unique needs, as is being piloted in NYC’s School of One. Chris knows that innovations like the School of One are stiffed in California by the state’s antiquated high stakes state testing system that does nothing to personalize instruction, given that scores aren’t returned to teachers until the next year. The current state testing takes away the time and resources schools need to implement real-time school level data systems that teachers will use.
Parents and Voters Will Get More Accurate and Complete School Reports
As for the results of the NAEP-style testing, they should be used to inform policy makers and parents through school reports similar to what is being done in New York City, but with even more data. If we broaden how we measure schools by collecting: sample results from all course subjects, student wellness data, teacher/student/parent surveys, district finances, and college completion rates, rather than just standardized tests scores. Parents and voters will then have a well rounded set of data to keep schools accountable.
Right now voters do not get enough information about their local schools to make informed decisions in local school governance.
State Tests Should Measure Schools, We Need Good Principals to Measure Teachers
We must make sure we have properly trained principals in place observing their classrooms. It seems so attractive to rate teachers by tests because it’s easy to implement, but it’s equally easy for teachers and schools to hide poor teaching with good test prep. We must demand better for our children by demanding more of our principals. Chris calls for adding principal observation and teacher self surveys to CALPADS, the pending state education database. This more holistic data will help us determine what type of teacher training is working and who to recruit to become teacher trainers and principals. Schools in Singapore, as do most Bay Area companies, actively recruit their very best to become leaders; we must start to do the same.