On a day when the big education policy news was a big speech by Jeb Bush, the Orlando Sentinel published a Q & A with FairTest director Bob Schaeffer. Editorial columnist Darryl Owens conducted the interview via email.
Q: The Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) recently approved a resolution opposing the current use of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Surprised?
A: This grass-roots “revolt” reflects widespread concern that public schools spend too much time testing and not enough teaching. Independent experts, including a panel of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, agree that an over-emphasis on high-stakes testing has not helped improve school quality.
Q: Is FSBA on to something?
A: Florida may well be the worst test-score misuser of any state in the country. The head of FSBA recently reported that many students spend 38 to 40 days in each school year preparing for and taking standardized exams. That’s definitely overkill.
Q: John Winn, a former state education commissioner, pondered in a recent column, “If not FCAT, then what?” What is the alternative?
A: Winn’s argument assumes that sticking with the status quo — despite its demonstrated problems — is the only way to move forward. Assessment reformers like FairTest have long offered better alternatives, including:
Classroom assessment by better trained teachers who evaluate what their students know and can do using portfolios, projects and exhibitions as well as their own quizzes, midterms and finals. External checks by some combination of state-level “inspectorates,” panels of educators from other districts, or community leaders.
Periodic low-stakes external testing as a further barometer of academic learning. A supposed lack of better models is not the reason why politicians have not yet overhauled “No Child Left Behind.” Rather, their faith in high-stakes exams blinds them to the evidence that their strategy is a failure.
Q: The 2012 “Diplomas Count” report found Florida’s minorities outpaced the national graduation rate average. FCAT backers credit testing. Can’t argue with success, right?
A: Die-hard supporters of the FCAT and test score misuse cherry-picked data to defend their policies. In fact, Florida remains a middle-of-the-pack state by most national measures of educational quality. For example, the state’s scores on the college admissions ACT and SAT exams have actually declined in recent years
Read the rest here.
Schaffer’s response for former education commissioner, John Winn, “their faith in high-stakes exams blinds them to the evidence that their strategy is a failure,” was especially poignant. Winn and his former boss (Bush) see high-stakes tests as the ultimate arbiter. By continuing to attempt to drown out opposition they are revealing that justification their philosophy is extremely narrow. As I wrote in a post last weekend:
Saying education has improved because test scores have improved because of well, testing, no longer passes the smell test.