Student Testing Proves Very Little as The Testing Industry PROFITS

In a recent Washington Post article written by Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York and named the 2010 NYS Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association, the evaluative tests administered to elementary students in NYS during the last few months of the school year are time consuming, draining on the students and teachers and prove very little. The following is paraphrased from that article.

When students return from their Spring Break, they will not be learning. Instead, they will be subjected to six days of New York State exams. Teachers must allot 90 minutes for six days — a total of nine hours — not counting 60 minutes of “prep time” to pass out materials. The New York State Education Department estimates that each test book will take 60 minutes to complete for a total of 6 hours of testing of students from Grades 3 to 8. For students with a learning disability who get extra time, it can be as much as 12 hours of testing.

When these students pick up their pencils on April 17, they will determine, in part, the evaluation of their teachers, principal, school and perhaps even the school of education that their teacher attended, as suggested by a recent New York proposal for testing. As a matter of measurement, this is nonsense. And it applies awful pressure on teachers and schools to become test-prep factories. But it’s also an unfair and unnecessary burden to put on the shoulders of a child.

It is also the reason that the tests now have to last six hours. No longer are they designed to determine if the student is achieving at grade level or needs extra help. The new tests now include below-grade-level, above-grade-level and field-test questions. If the state is going to use the student tests to evaluate teachers, those tests must be able to show yearly student growth for students who are below- or above-grade-level in skills. The tests must also be able to evaluate the validity and reliability of future questions because if the state is going to mandate the dismissal of teachers and principals based on student test results, or ruin their reputation by posting their scores in the newspaper, then it must also require that the tests be designed to stand up in court (whether or not they ultimate do stand up is still an open question). The needs of the lawyer, not the child, are now front and center.

Instead of learning, students will answer question after question – designed by measurement experts, not their teachers. They will stare at the ceiling if they finish early, and wait to hear the words, “pencils down.” They will lose more than a week of their education so that their teacher can be ranked and sorted on a bell curve and assigned a number. And after all that effort and wasted time, the best we can say about that number is that it can distinguish the very best from the very worst teacher — replicating information that their principals already know.

Because of APPR, the NYS teacher evaluation system, the test obsession does not end with the state exam. Districts across the state are buying additional tests for students to take in order to create data for the part of the teacher evaluation designated the local assessment (20% of the total). Districts are purchasing tests such as the NWEA to measure student growth again, to again use evaluate teachers. New York City’s Department of Education has put out bids for what will surely be millions of dollars in local assessments that will be used to not only measure learning to evaluate teachers, but to close schools. Many of these tests take place over multiple sittings, robbing students of precious instructional time and resources. The assessments associated with the Common Core, developed by the PARC Consortium, are a nine-exam series for Grade 3-11. And those are only the exams in math and English Language Arts.

Who is it, then, that benefits from testing obsession? Financial benefits, at least, are pretty easy to identify. Certainly those who make the tests, score the tests, and build the data systems benefit. The Pearson Corporation, which reported a 72% increase in profits, was awarded a $33 million contract by the New York State Education Department in 2010 for testing. Pearson sells the tools to grade the tests, the software to analyze the tests, and the textbooks that teach to the test. In 2011, Pearson Education spent over a million dollars on lobbying. Even the Pearson Foundation is under investigation for possible lobbying violations.

The culture of testing has created an enormous opportunity for profit for those connected with the testing and data industry as well as well-paid professional consultants. In the war on public schools, commonly referred to as ‘school reform,’ the weapon of choice is the test. Those tests are the basis for battering public school teachers. They are the basis for closing schools. They are the rock on which the whole corporate school reform industry stands. Without test scores as the bottom line, that industry would collapse.

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