Did you all see this article in the Times today, http://tinyurl.com/2fq87td The article is about school administrators who have been caught cheating, adjusting the state tests taken by their students, so that the school would be seen as making better annual yearly progress. More generally, it is about the question of whether high stakes testing — where teacher tenure, teacher bonus, school funding are all tied to how students do on state tests — is leading to more cheating by adults. The article is not entirely clear on that — it gives compelling recent anecdotes of cheating, but one study says the rate of adult cheating is 1-3%, another says more like 4-5% — and it is not self evident that either of those ranges is a big increaase. And yet this extreme case does open up, again, the question of what high stakes testing does and does not do.
Lets grants that some measure of performance, some standard, is a good idea. Lets also grant that too many kids leave high school unprepared for life and work, and that is not counting the students who don’t make it that far. So testing is an effort to deal with a real problem. But what concerns me is that it is a solution that spawns its own set of problems — state standards for one, cheating by adults perhaps, constriction of school focus. And it seems to me we jumped into this national testing frenzy, we changed everything before thinking through what we were doing. Education became a political issue and therefore got broad solutions that allowed politicians to claim they were being active, doing something. But then kids are caught in the whiplash — even if NCLB fades and testing changes or ebbs, suddenly teachers, students, librarians parents will have a whole new regime, a new program, a new set of rules.
We are lurching around, toying with kids — as if K-12 education were one more corporation where we could try out a new management strategy — Six Sigma, Total Quality Management — whatever sweeps the MBA programs. But it is not, it is the lives of young people and there is something fundamentally irresponsible in how we tinker without fully considering the consequences of our adult choices. We shoudl test how testing works before imposing tests on kids in 50 states — or we should have. Now we are in the mess and cheating our way out.