I live in Ohio, a high-stakes testing state. The deal is, if a school’s students perform consistently poorly on the Ohio Achievement Tests (OATs), eventually all the teachers and school’s principal get reassigned and the school starts again from scratch.
Pretty high stakes, for the teachers who try to build a career and a life, and for students who find their school turned upside-down.
I’m by no means a fan of what happens in most classrooms, but I do feel for teachers forced to teach to a test. And as a father of two children in these high-stakes schools, I definitely feel for the kids who’ve had any remaining joy sucked out of the educational process. According to the politicians, these schools are teaching so poorly that they deserve to be punished.
But are they teaching poorly? There’s a new study on the Ohio Achievement Tests that was reported in the local newspaper on Sunday. Here’s an online version. In short, it says that the OATs map nothing nearly so well as the socio-economic situation of the students in a school. We’re punishing students for coming from poor families, and we’re punishing teachers for working in poor districts. We’re hurting most the very kids who most need our help. And this we call “no child left behind.”
Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to fool yourself? Notice where the criticism of this study is coming from. Ohio Department of Education officials have an awful lot invested in the current high-stakes testing environment, so any evidence against it it is discounted or ignored. Teaching to the test is compared to coaching to win. But if the game is invalid, what’s the point of winning it? What have you really taught? “Fairness and sensitivity committees” review the questions. But if the data shows that the tests still map to socio-economic status, even after the review, then clearly the review process was a failure, right? Beware the things you want to believe. The easiest person to fool is yourself.
Ironic it is that if education did what it is supposed to do, then those in charge at ODE would understand that they can’t ignore scientific data simply because they don’t like the results.