How did testing and accountability become the main levers of school reform? How did our elected officials become convinced that measurement and data would fix the schools? Somehow our nation got off track in its efforts to improve education. What once was the standards movement was replaced by the accountability movement. What once was an effort to improve the quality of education turned into an accounting strategy: Measure, then punish or reward. No education experience was needed to administer such a program. Anyone who loved data could do it. The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education. -Diane Ravitch, The Life and Death of the Great American School System
Ravitch continues with a subtle, yet crucial point.
Tests should follow the curriculum. They should be based on the curriculum. They should not replace it or precede it. (emphasis mine)
Oh how I wish our schools would listen to such wisdom.
Once a school begins down the path of being “test-driven,” or governed by the data and numbers, anxiety takes root among parents who then transfer that anxiety to their children. Unfortunately, the things of greatest importance in education are sacrificed, forgotten, or neglected. I believe this is evident when observing the order of Ravitch’s last statement.
When tests do not follow the curriculum, but precede it, a new standard dictates the nature of the classroom, by which I mean what is taught and how it is taught. Who wrote the tests? What standards are they following, determining, and prescribing? Does their concept of education align with our school? Probably not. How could it? “They” do not even know who “our school” is, let alone the students in my class.
An important order exists within a school that should not be violated. The “test[s] should follow the curriculum” because the curriculum embodies the ideas on which we (any particular school or home) seek to nourish our children.
The curriculum is determined by the ideas we desire to instill, not tests prescribed by strangers.
In addition, the ideas are determined by our mission and vision of education. If we believe that we must cultivate wisdom and virtue, what ideas will fulfill this task? Those ideas will define the curriculum we use because the curriculum must embody those ideas, and the curriculum in turn will determine the tests we (ought to) administer to our children.
The prescriptive direction flows one way. We must exercise great caution concerning the tests we administer. We must exercise great caution in how we interpret these tests, what we communicate to parents, and the reactive measures we institute as a result.
“The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education.”