March 5, 2007

Some typical responses to concerns about test-prep

Both Eduwonk and This Week in Education are minimizing the concerns over test-prep that are illustrated by the Washington Post "bubble kids" story over the weekend. Eduwonk (aka Andy Rotherham) calls it "hand-wringing and whining," and and TWiE (aka Alexander Russo) says it's essentially revisiting the issue "whose scope and depth and negative impact remain not entirely clear or documented in this story."

For several reasons, I'm reading those as honest responses rather than spin. I don't understand the minimization, but I think they come by it honestly. On the other hand, there are several political reasons to pay attention to the issue. First, the "this is not a problem" stance wears thing pretty quickly when the reality of parents' and kids' lives look different. Reformers stop looking like reformers when they stop trying to capture problems and own the solutions to them. As far as I'm aware, no strong NCLB advocate has attempted to suggest solutions to the proliferation of test-prep. The only one I know who has acknowledged the problem is Diane Ravitch, to her credit.

The second political reason to pay attention to the issue is the forthcoming arrival of an important book on the topic. No, I'm not talking about Accountability Frankenstein (though I'd love to be proven wrong about that) but Collateral Damage, by Sharon Nichols and David Berliner. Apart from the various surveys of teachers cited in the book, it includes voluminous documentation of anecdotes.  The plural of anecdotes is not representative data, but there are enough concerns over the past 5 years that we can say those who ignore test preparation and other side-effects of high-stakes testing are ignoring reality

... unless any of those happened to say that the fraud at WorldCom and Enron wasn't a reason to be concerned about corporate misdeeds. Then at least they can say they were consistent.

Update: Eduwonk updates his entry to write "it's an issue but my point is that it's not inherent in the policy."

I agree with him that it's possible to have a school in a high-stakes system that doesn't have weeks of test-prep, and at some level it's an administrative decision to respond to pressure in that way. On the other hand, the combination has led to widespread dysfunctional behavior, and I'm not sure it's fruitful asking whether it's high-stakes accountability or the underlying system behavior that's "responsible" for test-prep. That's sort of like asking whether it's the ammonia or the bleach that's the cause of the fumes.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on March 5, 2007 5:36 PM |