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What About This…? 3.3.2016

By Wayne William Cipriano

If you save your copies of the Douglas County Herald as we do and place every single page in its own gold frame and mount those frames on a very long wall in our home, you can easily locate the November 5, 2015 issue of the paper.  Even if you do not treat them as reverently as do we, perhaps you have a pile of past copies you can paw through.  Or, maybe a friend does.  Or, you can drop by the Herald office to look through their bound copies available at the front of the office.

If you are interested in what fol­lows, you can read the article that motivated this column on page one of section B entitled, “op-Ed: Growing Number of Indicators Highlight Need to Revamp Federal Education Policy,” by Mike Lodewegen, Missouri Association of School Administrators.  Regardless of the title, the article concentrates almost entirely on testing in public schools.

The lack of understanding demon­strated in the Op-Ed in terms of both the theoretical basis of testing and its practical application is nothing short of stunning, particularly o the part of someone who indicates a connection to an organization call­ing itself the “Missouri Association of School Administrators” which sounds as if educational theory and practice would be an essential part of their mission.

A paragraph-by-paragraph cri­tique of the article, as it jumps from credible fact to promulgating popu­list ‘expertise’ where, based on the information provided, none such can exist would take much too much space.  Let me then speak to the one question both paramount in im­portance and completely ignored by Lodewegen: “Why do we test students?”  When you ask that, the non-sequiturs, false information, and faulty reasoning fade away in light of the very simple answer: “We test students to discover what they have learned!”

As with most such tracts it is dif­ficult to object to everything written.  In fact, one almost always finds oneself agreeing with parts of any such discussion. For example Lodewegen states, “…real learning has very little to do with a stand­ardized test…”  Here, he is far too generous to his opposition.  As someone who made a living for some time developing, administer­ing, evaluating tests of various types from the most concrete and objec­tive to the most free formed and subjective, and using the results of those tests in psychotherapeutic as well as prescriptive educational applications, I wholeheartedly agree with Lodewegen.  Unless you intend to teach students techniques and strategies to improve their ability to score better on any standardized objective test, testing has absolutely nothing to do with “real learning.”

While Lodewegen notes that the Department of Education suggests testing be limited to two-percent of school time, (I assume he refers to ‘mandated’ tests, not general subject testing), he fails to ask why so much of the time he describes as ‘lost’ due to excessive testing is so spent.  Is the reason simply the hope that scores will rise, teachers look good, buildings shine intellectually, dis­tricts glow as the practice effect of more and more testing raises scores slightly but significantly?  Where do the directions to test more and more frequently come from?  Remember, cold hard cash follows good results on the few tests required by the Department of Education.

As you and I both understand, testing, especially standardized objective testing which strives to evaluate a particular area of learning achievement as fairly and as accu­rately as possible, is necessary to discover where we are in learning, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and most important of all, how well our teaching methods are working.

No one reading this is very inter­ested in the characteristics of a good test –– its construction, appearance, normalization, timing, and all the other facets that make a test and results valuable.  But everyone who cares about the progress of a learner, from the learner to the teacher, to all the others involved in the learner’s life, from family to employers to the community at large should take a long hard look at testing as an indis­pensible component of education and ask whey this opposition to testing really exists.

Lodewegen suggests and cites others who agree that Federal inter­vention in public education by man­dating testing is the culprit here and implies, though does not state specifically, that the more state and local control that exists over all phases of public education to the exclusion of the Federal govern­ment, the better off public education would be.  And again, you find yourself following his reasoning that it should be more efficient to deal with poor achievement in school as a local problem – students unable to read at graduation, students terrified by mathematics, six out of ten students taking college entrance examinations operating at skill lev­els below that required to even begin college work. (And what level are those who do not even take such exams?)

Didn’t we run public schools for a century and a half at the local level, relying on local control, each venue almost a principality unto itself?  Is that why we have such wide varia­tion in public school student per­formance from locale to locale?  Is that the reason so many locations demonstrate such an utter failure in the education of their young?  And other places with the same resources show magnificent performance? Is this what we want from the taxes we provide to support public education?  A dart thrown at a map to decide if our kid gets the benefit of a great education or a substandard one based simply on where a certain school district’s borderline is drawn?

How can we determine how one public school is doing compared to another?  And how can we do so in time to have some effect on the students who are not doing well –– especially when it seems within that school they are doing just fine?  Do we not need these methods of comparison applied across as many school districts as possible to identify those that need remediation and to learn what works well from those that are doing well?

The administration of proper tests, at proper intervals, is a process that should be in a constant state of evolution so that the results gained are not merely descriptive but academically prescriptive.  Doing away with achievement testing because we are afraid of what the results will show us is exactly the same thing as buying points and plugs to improve the performance of our car and after installing the parts not engaging the starter because we are afraid the car won’t run.  If you do not test drive the car, how will you know if the parts did the job?

Or were worth the cost?

By Wayne William Cipriano

If you save your copies of the Douglas County Herald as we do and place every single page in its own gold frame and mount those frames on a very long wall in our home, you can easily locate the November 5, 2015 issue of the paper.  Even if you do not treat them as reverently as do we, perhaps you have a pile of past copies you can paw through.  Or, maybe a friend does.  Or, you can drop by the Herald office to look through their bound copies available at the front of the office.

If you are interested in what fol­lows, you can read the article that motivated this column on page one of section B entitled, “op-Ed: Growing Number of Indicators Highlight Need to Revamp Federal Education Policy,” by Mike Lodewegen, Missouri Association of School Administrators.  Regardless of the title, the article concentrates almost entirely on testing in public schools.

The lack of understanding demon­strated in the Op-Ed in terms of both the theoretical basis of testing and its practical application is nothing short of stunning, particularly o the part of someone who indicates a connection to an organization call­ing itself the “Missouri Association of School Administrators” which sounds as if educational theory and practice would be an essential part of their mission.

A paragraph-by-paragraph cri­tique of the article, as it jumps from credible fact to promulgating popu­list ‘expertise’ where, based on the information provided, none such can exist would take much too much space.  Let me then speak to the one question both paramount in im­portance and completely ignored by Lodewegen: “Why do we test students?”  When you ask that, the non-sequiturs, false information, and faulty reasoning fade away in light of the very simple answer: “We test students to discover what they have learned!”

As with most such tracts it is dif­ficult to object to everything written.  In fact, one almost always finds oneself agreeing with parts of any such discussion. For example Lodewegen states, “…real learning has very little to do with a stand­ardized test…”  Here, he is far too generous to his opposition.  As someone who made a living for some time developing, administer­ing, evaluating tests of various types from the most concrete and objec­tive to the most free formed and subjective, and using the results of those tests in psychotherapeutic as well as prescriptive educational applications, I wholeheartedly agree with Lodewegen.  Unless you intend to teach students techniques and strategies to improve their ability to score better on any standardized objective test, testing has absolutely nothing to do with “real learning.”

While Lodewegen notes that the Department of Education suggests testing be limited to two-percent of school time, (I assume he refers to ‘mandated’ tests, not general subject testing), he fails to ask why so much of the time he describes as ‘lost’ due to excessive testing is so spent.  Is the reason simply the hope that scores will rise, teachers look good, buildings shine intellectually, dis­tricts glow as the practice effect of more and more testing raises scores slightly but significantly?  Where do the directions to test more and more frequently come from?  Remember, cold hard cash follows good results on the few tests required by the Department of Education.

As you and I both understand, testing, especially standardized objective testing which strives to evaluate a particular area of learning achievement as fairly and as accu­rately as possible, is necessary to discover where we are in learning, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and most important of all, how well our teaching methods are working.

No one reading this is very inter­ested in the characteristics of a good test –– its construction, appearance, normalization, timing, and all the other facets that make a test and results valuable.  But everyone who cares about the progress of a learner, from the learner to the teacher, to all the others involved in the learner’s life, from family to employers to the community at large should take a long hard look at testing as an indis­pensible component of education and ask whey this opposition to testing really exists.

Lodewegen suggests and cites others who agree that Federal inter­vention in public education by man­dating testing is the culprit here and implies, though does not state specifically, that the more state and local control that exists over all phases of public education to the exclusion of the Federal govern­ment, the better off public education would be.  And again, you find yourself following his reasoning that it should be more efficient to deal with poor achievement in school as a local problem – students unable to read at graduation, students terrified by mathematics, six out of ten students taking college entrance examinations operating at skill lev­els below that required to even begin college work. (And what level are those who do not even take such exams?)

Didn’t we run public schools for a century and a half at the local level, relying on local control, each venue almost a principality unto itself?  Is that why we have such wide varia­tion in public school student per­formance from locale to locale?  Is that the reason so many locations demonstrate such an utter failure in the education of their young?  And other places with the same resources show magnificent performance? Is this what we want from the taxes we provide to support public education?  A dart thrown at a map to decide if our kid gets the benefit of a great education or a substandard one based simply on where a certain school district’s borderline is drawn?

How can we determine how one public school is doing compared to another?  And how can we do so in time to have some effect on the students who are not doing well –– especially when it seems within that school they are doing just fine?  Do we not need these methods of comparison applied across as many school districts as possible to identify those that need remediation and to learn what works well from those that are doing well?

The administration of proper tests, at proper intervals, is a process that should be in a constant state of evolution so that the results gained are not merely descriptive but academically prescriptive.  Doing away with achievement testing because we are afraid of what the results will show us is exactly the same thing as buying points and plugs to improve the performance of our car and after installing the parts not engaging the starter because we are afraid the car won’t run.  If you do not test drive the car, how will you know if the parts did the job?

Or were worth the cost?