Huffington Post education writer Joy Resmovits interviewed scholars who conducted a National Research Council study which overviewed “incentives and test-based accountability in public schools.” Their conclusions may be the most damaging to test-based reform and NCLB to date.
We went ahead, implementing this incredibly expensive and elaborate strategy for changing the education system without creating enough ways to test whether what we are doing is useful or not,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and member of the committee that produced the report.
Heavily testing students and relying on their scores in order to hold schools — and in some cases teachers — accountable has become the norm in education policy. The No Child Left Behind Act, the largest piece of education legislation on the federal level, for example, uses performance on math and reading exams to gauge whether schools are failing or succeeding — and which schools are closed or phased out.
“Incentives are powerful, which means they don’t always do what they want them to do,” said Kevin Lang, a committee member who also chairs Boston University’s economics department. “As applied so far, they have not registered the type of improvements that everyone has hoped for despite the fact that it’s been a major thrust of education reform for the last 40 years.”
The tests educators rely on are often too narrow to measure student progress, according to the study. The testing system also failed to adequately safeguard itself, the study added, providing ways for teachers and students to produce results that seemed to reflect performance without actually teaching much.
“We’re relying on some primitive intuition about how to structure the education system without thinking deeply about it,” Ariely said.
Increasing test scores do not always correlate to more learning or achievement, the study authors said. For example, Lang mentioned that high school exit test scores have been found to rise while high school graduation rates stagnate.
With Florida’s education commissioner Gerard Robinson running around the state and telling everybody that they are just plain wrong about testing, such a comprehensive study provides quite a smackdown. Here’s more:
“None of the studies that we looked at found large effects on learning, anything approaching the rhetoric of being at the top of the international scale,” Lang said. He added that the most successful effects the report calculated showed that NCLB programs moved student performance by eight hundredths of the standard deviation, or from the 50th to the 53rd percentile.
The report, released Thursday and sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, recommends more rigorous testing of reforms before their implementation. “Before we did welfare reform, we did a lot of experiments at the state level,” Lang said.
“We tried different ways of doing it and we learned a lot, instead of deciding that on the basis of rather casual theorizing that one set of reforms was obviously the way to go,” Lang added. “There has not at this point been as much experimentation at the state level in education.”
But hasn’t Florida already been a test ground? We’ve had Jeb Bush’s FCAT now for more than a decade. The former governor has been traveling all over the country and selling a Florida model to state legislatures which produced 55 % of its high school grads needing remediation in reading, writing or math. It would furthermore be fair to assume that such a system would not have produced an 80% failure rate on a state-wide writing assessments earlier this month.
Such mountains of clear evidence when coupled with a surging tsunami of contrary public opinion against high-stakes testing is beginning to show Jeb Bush to be a charlatan of historic proportions. He won’t be alone on the wrong side of history.