Mandated “Standardized” Tests or Mandated “Performance” Tests?

Fewer and fewer colleges require SAT scores for admission and more and more parents and others are calling for the reduction or elimination of “standardized” tests.  Interestingly, there is little call for “no mandated K-12 tests” at all.  One might expect that call given the complaints against Common Core-aligned tests and the number of misleading references to what Finland has done.

According to many education writers in this country, there are no tests in Finnish schools, at least no “mandated standardized tests.”  That phrase was carefully hammered out by Smithsonian Magazine to exclude the many no- or low-stakes “norm-referenced” tests (like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or ITBS) that have been given for decades across this country especially in the elementary grades to help school administrators to understand where their students’ achievement fell under a “normal curve” of distributing test scores.

Yet, a prominent Finnish educator tells us that Finnish teachers regularly test their upper-grade students. As Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, noted (p. 25), teachers assess student achievement in the upper secondary school at the end of each six to seven-week period, or five or six times per subject per school year. There are lots of tests in Finnish schools, it seems, but mainly teacher-made tests (not state-wide tests) of what they have taught.  There are also “matriculation” tests at the end of high school (as the Smithsonian article admits)—for students who want to go to a Finnish university.  They are in fact voluntary; only students who want to go on to university take them.  Indeed, there are lots of tests for Finnish students, just not where American students are heavily tested (in the elementary and middle grades) and not constructed by a testing company. 

Why should Americans now be even more interested in the topic of testing than ever before?  Mainly because there seems to be a groundswell developing for “performance” tests in place of “standardized” tests.  And they are called “assessments” perhaps to make parents and teachers think they are not those dreaded tests mandated by state boards of education for grades 3-8 and beyond as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Who wouldn’t want a test that “accurately measures one or more specific course standards”?  And is also “complex, authentic, process and/or product-oriented, and open-ended.”  Edutopia’s writer, Patricia Hilliard, doesn’t tell us in her 2015 blog “Performance-Based Assessment: Reviewing the Basics” whether it also brushes our hair and shines our shoes at the same time.

It’s as if our problem was simply the type of test that states have been giving, not what is tested nor the cost or amount of time teachers and students spend on them.  It doesn’t take much browsing on-line to discover that two states have already found out there were deep problems with those tests, too: Vermont and Kentucky.  

An old government publication (1993) warned readers about some of the problems with portfolios: ”Users need to pay close attention to technical and equity issues to ensure that the assessments are fair to all students.” It turns out that portfolios are not good for high stakes assessment—for a range of important reasons. In a nutshell, they are costly, time-consuming, and unreliable.   Quoting one of the researchers/evaluators in the Vermont initiative, it indicates: “The Vermont experience demonstrates the need to set realistic expectations for the short-term success of performance-assessment programs and to acknowledge the large costs of these programs.” Koretz et al state elsewhere in their own blog that the researchers “found the reliability of the scoring by teachers to be very low in both subjects… Disagreement among scorers alone accounts for much of the variance in scores and therefore invalidates any comparisons of scores.” 

Koretz and his colleagues emphasized the lack of quality data in another government publication. And as noted in a 2018 blog by Daisy Christodoulou, a former English teacher in several London high schools, validity and reliability are the two central qualities needed in a test. 

We learned even more from a book chapter by education professor George K. Cunningham on the “failed accountability system” in Kentucky. One of Cunningham’s most astute observations is the following:

Historically, the purpose of instruction in this country has been increasing student academic achievement. This is not the purpose of progressive education, which prefers to be judged by standards other than student academic performance. The Kentucky reform presents a paradox, a system structured to require increasing levels of academic performance while supporting a set of instructional methods that are hostile to the idea of increased academic performance (pp. 264-65).

That is still the dilemma today—skills-oriented standards assessed by “standardized” tests that require, for the sake of a reliable assessment, some multiple-choice questions.  

Cunningham also warned, in the conclusion to his long chapter on Kentucky, about using performance assessments for large-scale assessment (p. 288).  “The Performance Events were expensive and presented many logistical headaches.”  In addition, he noted:

The biggest problem with using performance assessments in a standards-based accountability system, other than poor reliability, is the impossibility of equating forms longitudinally from year to year or horizontally with other forms of assessment. In Kentucky, because of the amount of time required, each student participated in only one performance assessment task. As a result, items could never be reused from year to year because of the likelihood that students would remember the tasks and their responses. This made equating almost impossible.  

Further details on the problems of equating Performance Events may be found in a technical review in January 1998 by James Catterall and four others for the Commonwealth of Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.  Also informative is a 1995 analysis of Kentucky’s tests by Ronald Hambleton et al.  It is a scanned document and can be made searchable with Adobe Acrobat Professional.  

A slightly optimistic account of what could be learned from the attempt to use writing and mathematics portfolios for assessment can be found in a recent blog by education analyst Richard Innes at Kentucky’s Bluegrass Institute

For more articles on the costs and benefits of student testing, see the following:

Concluding Remarks:

Changing to highly subjective “performance-based assessments” removes any urgent need for content-based questions. That was why the agreed-upon planning documents for teacher licensure tests in Massachusetts (which were required by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993) specified more multiple-choice questions on content than essay questions in their format (they all included both) and, for their construction, revision, and approval, required content experts as well as practicing teachers with that license, together with education school faculty who taught methods courses (pedagogy) for that license. With the help of the president of the National Evaluation Systems (NES, the state’s licensure test developer) and others in the company, the state was able to get more content experts involved in the test approval process.   What Pearson, a co-owner of these tests, has done since its purchase of NES is unknown. 

For example, it is known that for the Foundations of Reading (90), a licensure test for most prospective teacher of young children (in programs for elementary, early childhood, and special education teachers), Common Core’s beginning reading standards were added to the test description, as were examples for assessing the state’s added standards to the original NES Practice Test.   It is not known if changes were made to the licensure test itself (used by about 6 other states) or to other Common Core-aligned licensure tests or test preparation materials, e.g., for mathematics.   Even if Common Core’s standards are eliminated (as in Florida in 2019 by a governor’s Executive Order), their influence remains in some of the pre-Common Core licensure tests developed in the Bay State—tests that contributed to academically stronger teachers for the state.

It is time for the Bay State’s own legislature to do some prolonged investigations of the costs and benefits of “performance-based assessments” before agreeing to their possibility in Massachusetts and to arguments that may be made by FairTest or others who are eager to eliminate “standardized” testing.

Education Is More Than Checklists

Joseph Ganem,  a professor of physics at Loyola University Maryland, wrote an op/ed for the Baltimore Sun entitled “It’s time to rethink the purpose of standardized tests.” 

He makes the following point that I think is spot on:

An approach to education based on standards invariably results in checklists being brought out and omissions noted, rather than accomplishments cited. It is a general truth of the human condition that the list of knowledge and skills a person possesses will always be short compared to the list that person lacks. Education, when viewed through this lens, becomes an exercise in futility.

Absolutely. With the current shift of education becoming about workforce development that has brought about standards-based reforms, students lose out on what was once a well-rounded education. Ganem continues:

Articulating and assessing “standards” is also a futile exercise. A list of skills for “college and career readiness” — to borrow a recent phase — is guaranteed to be obsolete before anyone has a chance to graduate, because the world is changing too fast. The history of Maryland testing shows this to be the case. However, there are two constants in all the change: the need for life-long learning and the fact that the economy is demanding a greater diversity of talents, skills and dispositions; not less.

Read the whole piece.

ACT to Develop a Standardized Morals Assessment

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

ACT announced last week that they won a contract to provide a standardized assessment for a moral education program for students in the United Arab Emirates called the Moral Education Standardized Assessment (MESA).

In their press release, they state they will leverage the expertise of its US-based research and test development teams to create the assessment, which will also utilize the latest theory and principles of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout the development process. 

“We are thrilled to be supporting a holistic approach to student success,” ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said. “We know that social and emotional learning skills are crucial to success in school and life and these skills can be taught and developed over time. With their learning and measurement expertise, our teams will create a world-class assessment that measures UAE student readiness, so teachers can more effectively foster the shared cultural values across UAE’s diverse communities.”

“Moral Education is an innovative, engaging curriculum designed to develop young people of all nationalities and ages in the UAE with universal principles and values that reflect the shared experiences of humanity,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, the Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said. “The curriculum was introduced in the UAE in 2017 in an initiative from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Through the MESA, we plan to assess the impact of Moral Education over time in an independent and standardized manner. Beyond testing the students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts, we aim to measure their awareness of the character traits and values underpinning the Moral Education Program.”

The UAE’s Moral Education program builds upon these four “pillars”:

Character & Morality: “The character and morality curriculum is centred around developing each student as honest, tolerant, resilient and persevering individuals.”

Individual & Community: “A true citizen is one that takes care of themselves in addition to caring about the good of society and participating actively to make things better.”

Civic Studies: “Whether a student was born in the UAE or moved here with their family, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of how the UAE was formed and how it is governed today.”

Cultural Studies: “Culture is an inherent part of a society and the program wants to highlight UAE’s shared human culture that encapsulates the traditions and symbols that help define who we are.”

While the UAE is certainly more “tolerant” than some of their neighbors, they are not exactly a bastion of freedom and religious tolerance. 

This kind of assessment also begs the question: whose morals will be taught and assessed? 

So why am I writing about a morality assessment that will be used in the UAE at Truth in American Education? Peter Greene in his piece at Forbes made the following point:

It would be easy to pass this course and test off as an exercise in futility, except for a couple of things. First, the test will likely be digital, and therefore captured as more data for the test taker’s personal permanent file. Second, while the program is being piloted for UAE, once ACT has it built, they’re sure to want to market it other places as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the standardized morality test at a school near you.

Look for ACT to bring this test home once they have their test bank items developed. 

A Different Approach to Setting Academic Standards

Photo Credit: J. Sanna (CC-By-2.0)

I just received EdChoice’s report, Rethinking Regulation: Overseeing Performance in a Diversifying Educational Ecosystem written by Michael Q. McShane, in the mail Thursday. McShane is EdChoice‘s director of national research, as well as, an adjunct fellow for educational studies at the American Enterprise Institute and senior fellow with the Show-Me Institute in Missouri. The report was released in May.

He looks at the historical justifications for regulation, examines the regulatory practices, and then lays out a four-step process for reforming K-12 regulation today. He’s primarily focused on what happens at the state, not federal, level.

It was a wonky, but interesting read. I can’t say I agree with all of his conclusions, and I think there need to be deeper changes than what he suggests, but I wanted to highlight what he had to say about academic standards and assessments.

He advocates states draft fewer, simpler standards:

By my count, first graders in Missouri have 112 individual English Language Arts standards they are supposed to meet by the end of the school year. Missouri only requires that schools are in session for 174 days, meaning that there is one ELA standard for every one and a half days of school. As a former English teacher, this seems excessive.

States should have a small set of expectations for schools that are clearly communicated, measured directly and reported simply. Any principal, teacher, or parent should be able to parse the results…

…The simplest way to accomplish this is to cut down the number of standards to just the most important ones. But another could be a shift from defining a set of standards for every single grade to a cumulative set of standards that students should meet by the end of the major transition points in their education (say at fourth grade, eighth grade, and 12th grade). Even if states wanted to keep a coherent set of K-12 standards, perhaps they might require less frequent testing. Prior to No Child Left Behind, taking standardized tests every year was the exception, not the norm, and even high-performing states like Massachusetts only tested in fourth, eighth, and 10th grades, (pg. 9)

This is an interesting observation, and one that states when adopting academic standards should consider. It’s certainly a problem with Common Core. I also like his point about less frequent testing. Even Finland, whose education system has been championed by reformers, does not require the amount of assessment as we see in the United States.

He also recommends that states allow multiple assessments to be used instead of forcing all schools to use one. He writes:

If states still want to test students every year, there are multiple, psychometrically-validated standardized tests that can give teachers, parents and community members valuable and actionable information about how students are performing in school. Whether it is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the TerraNova, the NWEA, or the SAT-10, tens of millions of children have taken these tests. They are nationally norm-referenced so everyone involved can know not just how students are scoring in relation to the students in their state, but to students all around the country.

Schools should be free to use these tests as a tool to measure how well they are educating their students.

It is true that these tests are norm-referenced, and not based on particular state standards that states have drafted with their individual expectations for student knowledge. But the tradeoff in national comparability, ease of administration and freedom for educators to find the assessment they think best reflects what they are doing in their classroom could very well be worth it. If schools really value those standards, they can use the state’s tests. But it is also true that nationally normed tests reflect a broader consensus about what students should know beyond the handpicked groups of stakeholders that form the backbone of the state standard-writing process. Schools should have the option to choose those as well, (pg. 10).

An interesting point and one that runs counter to what we have seen most reformers advocate. 

The Assessments Are Rigged

We all know that polls can be skewed and that ‘what everybody knows’ may not be so. Similarly, assessments and assessment data can be gathered, used, and presented in various ways to feed an agenda.  Just because a child is said to be proficient on a state assessment doesn’t mean he or she actually is ‘proficient’ in the way parents want him or her to be.

When I was in school, my teachers would give us tests to help figure out how much of what they were teaching we had actually learned.  Then, the state stepped in and started giving assessments to make sure teachers were teaching what the state wanted them to teach.  And now?  We’re told the assessments are great, but we are just supposed to trust.  We can’t see the assessment questions.  The algorithms (mathematical formulas) determining which questions come next or whether you have a higher or a lower score are kept secret. The State Boards of Education or the assessment vendors, themselves, can move and change the ‘proficiency’ levels at will.

We take it on faith when a student passes a math assessment it means the student is proficient.  Is it possible to rig an assessment?  Not only is it possible, but it’s also being done all the time.  I have four examples of how the assessments are and have been manipulated to provide different results than most people expect.  This is being done without oversight, without insight into what is occurring, and certainly without permission from parents.

The first example is assessing not just what a student is supposed to know but making them do the problem in a particular way. Ask yourself, does this create a disadvantage for a child who knows the math facts but hasn’t been shown a particular way of doing things?

This problem is an example of a Common Core Math Standard from First Grade:

Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).   

This question doesn’t just assess whether a student knows how to do an addition word problem, but it assesses whether a student has been trained on the Making Ten Strategy as outlined in the standard.  Could a student solve 8+6 without knowing the Making Ten Strategy?  Yes, of course.  Does using the Making Ten Strategy indicate critical thinking?  Or does it simply indicate a student has been instructed in this strategy?  Would you be able to succeed as a mathematician without learning this Making Ten Strategy in First Grade? Have you successfully used addition in your life without thinking about the Making Ten Strategy?

Many parent complaints about Common Core Math come from having to show the various methods for getting the answer or having to explain why an answer is correct.

Parent:“When I was in school, we did it this way.”

Child: “I have to do it this other way or it will be marked wrong.”

One mother asked her child’s teacher if he could simply do the standard algorithm on all his math homework because the multiple strategies were causing him stress.  The teacher said if he didn’t learn the strategies, he wouldn’t do well on the state assessment.  Once the mother indicated her child would not be taking the assessment, the teacher readily agreed to give credit for just the standard algorithms.  The reason for the multiple methods?  To do well on the assessment.

A review written in 2011 by Dr. Stephen Wilson of Johns Hopkins University states the following about the Common Core SBAC test (then under development).  He says, “It appears that the assessments will focus on communication skills and Mathematical Practices over content knowledge.”

Furthermore, “Mathematical Practices, or what was usually called ‘process’ standards in most states, do little more than describe how someone pretty good at mathematics seems to approach mathematics problems. As stand-alone standards, they are neither teachable nor testable. Mathematics is about solving problems, and anyone who can solve a complex multi-step problem using mathematics automatically demonstrates their skill with the Mathematical Practices, (whether they can communicate well or not).”

In short, we see Dr. Wilson’s concerns demonstrated in the above example: the process of getting the answer is of greater importance than the actual mathematical abilities most people think the assessment should be assessing.

A second example comes from Utah’s SAGE (end-of-year) sample assessment for Third Grade. This question is supposed to assess a deeper understanding of division than simply asking if a child knows the answer to 12 ÷ 4. Unfortunately, in creating a more convoluted problem, the assessment question can be solved without knowing anything more than how to count and how to write a division problem. Division facts, themselves, are not necessary.

There are lots of kids who can divide things equally by putting them in different boxes without knowing 12 ÷ 4 = 3.  Supposedly, by dragging the stars and dragging the numbers, you are assessing higher-order thinking.  But what you are really assessing is the child’s familiarity with the software interface, the format of the problem, and whether they can count and relate counting to division.  But they don’t have to know 12 ÷ 4 = 3.

Would a child who knows her division facts be able to do this problem anyway?  Most likely.  However, it is also true this question doesn’t distinguish the child who does know her math facts from the one who does not.

A third example has to do with reading comprehension.  It dates back to the 1980’s but illustrates that what is on an assessment and how it is asked can be used to manipulate and ‘direct’ a student’s thought processes.  I quote Dr. Peg Luksik who worked for Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.  From her video :

‘A sample question said: “There’s a group called the Midnight Marauders and they went out at night and did vandalism. I (the child) would join the group IF…”

“…my best friend was in the group.”

“…my mother wouldn’t find out.”

There was no place to say they would not join the group. They had to say they would join the group.’

Dr. Luksik states that while this was listed as a citizenship assessment, the internal documents stated, “We’re not testing objective knowledge. We are testing and scoring for the child’s threshold for behavior change without protest.”

Additionally, Dr. Luksik discusses another state’s Reading Assessment question: “If you found a wallet with money in it, would you take it?”

She asked, ‘Do you read better if you say “yes”? Or do you read better if you say “no”? Or were they assessing a child’s honesty on a state assessment with their name on it…?’

Clearly, these are examples of assessment questions that were not assessing either citizenship or reading as you and I would define them.

And finally, before a single Utah student took the state’s SAGE assessment in 2014, the head of state assessments warned local school board members that student test scores were going to drop by 10 or 20 points.  He also stated there was no way to correlate the previous test results with the SAGE results.  So, how did he know this?  The point was they knew what the target proficiency rate was.  Utah was looking for a proficiency rate in the 40’s.  And as they went through the process of setting those proficiency scores, they did so after the first round of testing. Then they modified the scoring to make sure the result fell within that 40% range*.  So, in one year, did Utah kids lose 20 points of knowledge?  Or does it simply mean the Powers That Be decided only 40% of the kids got to be labeled ‘proficient’ regardless of what they actually knew?

The only sure way of knowing an assessment is truly measuring academic content and grading it appropriately requires transparency with the assessment questions, the assessment methodology, and independent verification procedures.

Instead of wondering how kids are doing on state assessments and whether a school is “good” based on the assessment scores, we need to be asking what are these assessments supposed to be measuring and how do we know they really are measuring what they claim?

*Alpine School Board Study Session Audio September 23, 2014, Additional Media->Study Session @ 45 minutes.


The Pressure Mounts

Photo credit: Brandon Grasley (CC-By-2.0)

The day started as it always does … bumping around in the dark.

The coffee was still too hot to sip … and there was this … this mother’s growl in the dark …

“… this morning … find multiple parents complaining about excessive Kindergarten homework 6-7 handouts, writing assignments … and 1.5 hours of I-Ready per week for a FIVE YEAR OLD … high school English teachers … told … there is no value in their students reading an entire book or a Shakespearean play … because there is NO VALUE FOR STANDARDIZED TEST PREP …”

Read that a second time. Slowly … so the craziness is crazy-clear.

Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.

Kids pressured … parents pressured … by pressured teachers. District supervisors pressured by principals who were pressured by superintendents … who were pressured by state magistrates … under pressure from politicians.

Would you like some valium with that coffee? So that you’re comfortably numb?

Not coincidentally, failure was one of Jake’s biggest fears … The relentless drive to avoid such a fate seemed to come from deep inside him. He considered it a strength.”

And, of course, it’s all manufactured madness. Concocted craziness. Ginned-up by this educational lunacy of the last decade.

Education’s deep spiral has now hit bottom. And the thud you hear? That’s your child’s head … hittin’ the wall.

And it gets worse.

Now the madness-makers … the crazy creators … they wanna prescribe the cure. There’s a scary syndrome for that sort of clever weirdness, right?

It’s no secret that lots and lots of kids are falling apart. On every level. A few keystrokes will leave you with enough sad reading for a thousand sips of coffee.

“Alarmed, Jake’s parents sent him to his primary-care physician, who prescribed Prozac … the first of many medications …and some made a bad situation worse.”

And the pressure is more grinding than most understand … because there’s a new twist to this educational waterboarding … technology.

So, there are fewer sanctuaries than ever for children … less time to day-dream … less recess minutes to hang upside down … less giggle time and song time. Less kid time.

No respites. No pauses. And it’s not just several anxious days each spring. It’s everyday. Perhaps several times a day.

It’s competency based education … CBE … and it has your kid on the hot-seat … All. The. Time.

“A few weeks later, Jake locked himself in a bathroom at home and tried to drown himself in the bathtub … He was hospitalized for four days …after he returned home, he started hiding out in his room again. He cried, slept, argued with his parents about going to school …”

And this is the grave new world of education … one of rich monotony and dangerous stress … where kids are squeezed and strained and duressed. And then sent home to decompress … until they fall apart. Like Jake.

It’s happening to kids as young as 6 and 7 … right through the teenage time. Stress doesn’t discriminate … and it doesn’t cure itself.

Everyone sees it, too. It’s no mystery.

Homes suffer through homework hell. Kids don’t wanna get on the bus … because they wanna get off the hamster-wheel. Some act out … and some fall apart.

And now the same geniuses who made the mess are galloping to the rescue … with “mindfulness and meditation” … and they want to record “the thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and mental processes of children.”

Your children. The ones they’ve already abused. The ones that may have already jaked.

It’s the latest intrusive, progressive fad called “social-emotional learning” or SEL … and it’s designed to get into your kid’s noggin. Literally.

And where’s this all coming from? The corporate world … the work place … and “the desire of the corporate progressives … to use SEL to change education from focusing on academics” … so students can be “slotted into careers.”

Ah! Those algorithms! … from way back when … are payin’ off big time! And you thought “career ready” was an empty chant. Think again.

Now it’s clear-clear … that children are being covertly nudged into this or that career pathway … justified by overwhelming mounds of data that can be Hansel and Greteled all the way back to the days when joy was first run out of their very brand-new lives.

“That summer, after two more hospitalizations, Jake’s desperate parents sent him to … a residential treatment facility … one of a growing number of programs for acutely anxious teenagers.” And a new industry was born.

And now a new battlefield is in plain view. Parents have seen it all before … so this … this is just a new swerve … a new lurch.

It may be time to take up your shields again … and to bang them more loudly than ever.

The mother who set this morning on fire … she deserves the last word.

“I don’t know who you think you are … but the parents are awake. We are on to you and the behavior of your administrators. We will hold you publicly accountable until you decide to do the right thing for our children. And we will make you famous until that day. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

I rather like that threat.


Testing for Wisdom?

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.
Photo credit: Ed Menendez (CC-By-SA 2.0)

I noticed an article in Scientific American entitled “Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of Smart Fools?

They interviewed Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg who annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science they said sounded the alarm about standardized testing.

He addressed problems with IQ tests and college entrance exams that are selecting and rewarding people who have a particular kind of intelligence, but not the intelligence needed to solve significant challenges.

Tests like the SAT, ACT, the GRE—what I call the alphabet tests—are reasonably good measures of academic kinds of knowledge, plus general intelligence and related skills. They are highly correlated with IQ tests and they predict a lot of things in life: academic performance to some extent, salary, level of job you will reach to a minor extent—but they are very limited. What I suggested in my talk today is that they may actually be hurting us. Our overemphasis on narrow academic skills—the kinds that get you high grades in school—can be a bad thing for several reasons. You end up with people who are good at taking tests and fiddling with phones and computers, and those are good skills but they are not tantamount to the skills we need to make the world a better place.

He argues we must factor other variables with intelligence to cultivate the problem-solvers our society needs.

What I argue is that intelligence that’s not modulated and moderated by creativity, common sense and wisdom is not such a positive thing to have. What it leads to is people who are very good at advancing themselves, often at other people’s expense. We may not just be selecting the wrong people, we may be developing an incomplete set of skills—and we need to look at things that will make the world a better place.

He says wisdom is needed.

You know, it’s easy to think of smart people but it’s really hard to think of wise people. I think a reason is that we don’t try to develop wisdom in our schools. And we don’t test for it, so there’s no incentive for schools to pay attention.

He then notes that schools teach what they test, and to get them to learn wisdom, he believes, we should start to test wisdom.

If we start testing for these broader kinds of skills, schools will start to teach to them, because they teach to the test. My colleagues and I developed assessments for creativity, common sense and wisdom. We did this with the Rainbow Project, which was sort of experimental when I was at Yale. And then at Tufts, when I was dean of arts and sciences, we started Kaleidoscope, which has been used with tens of thousands of kids for admission to Tufts. They are still using it. But it’s very hard to get institutions to change. It’s not a quick fix. Once you have a system in place, the people who benefit from it rise to the top and then they work very hard to keep it.

I have problems with this approach. First, I am not convinced we can teach wisdom in formal classroom settings. Sternberg is right that one can learn from role modeling, but how much can be done in school? Very little. Wisdom is something acquired through experience which takes time.

Second, can you test for wisdom in a standardized way? Who decides what is wise? Will this just be another way to label our kids? Also, is substituting assessments a solution? Wisdom, like perseverance, grit, and other characteristics social emotional learning focuses on is subjective. What is considered wise by some is considered folly by others.

So I’m doubtful that we can assess wisdom in a standardized way and I am not convinced that we should.

This Is One Reason Why Standardized Tests Aren’t Effective

Photo source:

If you really believe that standardized testing can help teachers better teach to their students’ weaknesses then they probably need results back sooner than a year.

From the Chicago Tribune/Naperville Sun:

Schools will have to wait until at least summer 2017 to get the results of the state science tests students took in 2016.

As high school biology students in Indian Prairie District 204 begin taking the Illinois Science Assessment this week, Superintendent Karen Sullivan said schools will push ahead despite the district having no idea how students performed when they took the assessment last spring.

“That makes it really useful to be able to know how to adapt to your instruction and your curriculum when you know what the results were,” said Sullivan at a recent board meeting.

Illinois State Board of Education officials said districts should see assessment results this summer.

This summer? Gee, thanks….

I realize that this is an extreme example, but every standardized assessment has lag time, and ultimately is not helpful in fine tuning individual instruction. Sure lessons could possibly be learned in the aggregate, but just because one class had a particular weakness it doesn’t mean the next class will be the same.

Anyway if this is a reason to push standardized testing those who advocate for it should be honest about its limitations. Parents would do well to opt their students out of these assessments that are ineffective and that waste time that is better spent teaching.

What Can You Do With 23 Additional Hours?

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The Newport (OR) News Times has a great quote from Newport High School Principal Jon Zagel about the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

“The average time was 23 hours to take the test. Twenty-three hours where our kids could be in the classroom reading another novel, learning more about math, learning more about science — we’re in a computer lab.”


Unfortunately the article has a paywall so I haven’t read the rest, based on the title Mr. Zagel isn’t alone in his problems with Smarter Balanced. In this short quote Mr. Zagel raises an excellent question.

What can teachers do if they had an additional 23 hours (or so) with their students instead of taking a standardized test that frankly doesn’t help students? It doesn’t even help teachers considering how long it takes for scores to be released.

What a colossal waste of time.

Poll: Support for Common Core Drops by 40% Since 2012

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School (Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

Support for the Common Core State Standards has dropped 40 points since 2012 according to a new poll. Education Next conducted their annual poll in May and June of 4,181 adults including 609 teachers and 1,571 parents with school-aged children living at home.

They report support for Common Core has dropped like a rock.

  • Only 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 90% in 2012. This number represents only 42% of the general public (got to love how they took out the 16% who didn’t take a side to make support seem higher).
  • For those Republicans who have expressed an opinion backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. (In total only 35% of all Republicans polled support Common Core, 53% oppose.)
  • Only 60% of Democrats taking a side support Common Core which is down from 86% in 2013 (49% of all Democrats support, 32% oppose).
  • Teachers have seen the largest drop. In 2013 87% of teachers taking a side supported Common Core now only 44% do. (41% of all teachers support, a majority –
  • More parents of school-aged children oppose Common Core (43%) than support it (42%).
  • Opposition is the lowest among African Americans (24%) and Hispanics (29%).
  • A majority of the public believes it is the state’s role, not the federal government’s role to establish education standards – 51%. Only 39% believes it is a federal role.
  • This was surprising – more Republicans (40%) believe the feds have the biggest role in setting standards compared to Democrats (37%). This doesn’t necessarily indicate support for that position, but how they view the way things are.

I’m less enthused about the polling on parental opt-outs and assessments.

  • 69% of the general public support the Feds requiring testing. Only 20% oppose.
  • 68% of parents support testing with 24% opposed.
  • Only 50% of teachers support testing with 46% opposed.
  • 60% of the general public opposes parental opt-outs. 25% support.
  • Among parents only 49% oppose opting out with 38% supporting opt-outs.
  • Only 52% of teachers opposed opting out with 40% supporting a parents’ right to opt their child out.
  • 63% of the general public support using the same test across states with 24% opposed.
  • 62% of parents support using the same tests across states with 25% opposed.
  • 53% of teachers support using the same tests across states with 38% opposed.

I have to admit that I’m surprised that more teachers support opting out of tests than parents. What doesn’t surprise me is that support for testing is so high. If education reformers have been successful at all it has been with the idea of schools being accountable which so far has primarily been done through testing.