November 15, 2006

Test-prep debate

Craig Jerald's comments on test-prep sparked Matt Yglesias's discussion and a debate about test prep, and then Jerald's follow-up.

I don't think there's that much disagreement about the facts: some schools respond to test pressures in inappropriate ways by narrowing the curriculum or engaging in instruction that they'd stop (and often do) right after testing. The question is why and how to get better responses.

Some advocates of high-stakes testing say that the problem lies with administrators, not tests.  To some extent, that's correct: the existence of a test does not require drill-and-kill responses. But on the other hand, as Yglesias notes, you can't expect the existence of a test by itself to change dysfunctional behavior into functional behavior. Schools that are truly in crisis are in that way not generally because its teachers are lazy but because many principals and teachers don't know how to teach any better.

Compounding this problem (and the failure of high-stakes policies to acknowledge or address it) is another simple, nasty fact: the test-prep genie is out of the bottle. Not only do people generally acknowledge that somewhere, somehow, people are getting higher test scores without learning or knowing more, but they think it's a good idea! Ask parents if they think high schools should teach kids how to score highly on the SATs and ACTs, and the answer will be, Heck, yes! I want my son/daughter to get scholarships, and it's the responsibility of schools to prepare kids for college. Because we often associate schooling with the private interests of getting ahead (i.e., social mobility), and because test-prep is framed as an activity that benefits individual mobility, many parents and others view the job of schools to prepare kids for testing.

Regardless of the origins, the long and short of it is that parents and others see test-prep as legitimate activities in response to high-stakes pressures. Any advocate of high-stakes testing who does not address that fact is failing to follow a simple rule: you need compliance with what you'd like to happen in classrooms more than you need paper compliance.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on November 15, 2006 12:00 AM |