Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How'd the US end up with so much testing?

Jay Mathews, the education writer at the Washington Post, takes readers through a historical journey of testing, from Socrates to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Some of it's nostalgic, some is disturbing. And at this point in history, all of it is controversial.

On one hand, there's the belief that too much testing stiffles the child, narrows the curriculum, and draws focus away from spending increased resources on improving teaching.

The other side says it doesn't make much sense to throw money at what isn't working -- especially if you don't know why the system's broken. And without testing, where's the accountability? How do schools (and those who pay the bills) ever know if they're succeeding in educating kids or not without some form of measurement?

Check out the article for yourself. And then have a look at Diane Ravitch's review of testing (she's a giant in the education world, and one of Mathew's sources for this story). She wrote this analysis, "A Brief History of Testing and Accountability," for the fall 2002 issue of the Hoover Digest. According to Ravitch,

"American education, in the near term at least, will therefore continue to be driven by the two paradigms: the professional education paradigm, which deeply believes that the profession should be insulated from public pressure for accountability and which is deeply suspicious of the intervention of policymakers, and the policymaker paradigm, which insists that the public school system be subject to incentives and sanctions based on its performance. How this conflict is resolved will determine the future of American education."

UPDATE: Andrew Rotherham, a big-wig blogger over at, digs deeper into the recent avalanche of stories on testing and accountability. Is testing alone the answer to creating more successful schools -- and students? No, according to Rotherham. "So sure, better assessments and curriculum are a must if we want to see real gains in student learning, but frankly so are better teachers and better teaching. But as Kati Haycock has pointed out (pdf), the latter is awfully hard to talk about. And the former is a more convenient villain." Lots of good links.


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