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Tuesday Talk: What’s the role of testing?

January 10, 2012 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Over the weekend, No Child Left Behind turned 10. It has done two positive things: identified the achievement gap and united the policy’s opposition. Much of the criticism focuses on NCLB’s over-reliance on high-stakes testing, and the narrow teaching, unfair labeling and punishments such tests produce. As Congress works on NCLB’s replacement, there’s no doubt some form of testing will be part of the mix.

What is the proper role for standardized testing in 21st century education? How do we move past NCLB?    

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  • John Crampton says:

    January 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

    If you are going to spend money to test and then take the results seriously, which is a dubious proposition at best…. then at the high school level the tests used to measure NCLB should be normed to international standards and they should count for something in terms of the individual student’s future prospects for college or technical school.

    Right now, high school students don’t have any “skin in the game.” There are no consequences for the students in how they perform on tests used to measure NCLB, so these tests are considered to be “big jokes” or ways of “getting the school in trouble” in the eyes of many students.  I bet you would see a significant shift in high school scores if the tests used for NCLB had the same importance to the students as the ACT or the SAT.

    Also, the idea of annual yearly progress is stupid.  What if you are already at 99%?  What if the performance of 1 or 2 minority students who just moved into your district can determine whether or not you make AYP?  The intent of AYP was to put money in the hands of the vicious testing companies and chains of for-profit remediation programs such as Jeb Bush’s companies.  And the net effect of NCLB has been to show that schools in poor areas do worse than schools in affluent areas——surprise!  surprise!

  • George F. Greene says:

    January 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    NCLB is typical of conservative approaches to problems -treating symptoms, not causes. Testing is a way to punish schools because in conservative ideology, everyone involved is a freeloader, from the students to the teachers and staff. Not a one of them generates profit for anyone and this bugs the hell out of them. They don’t see the huge payoff down the road.

    Make no mistake about it: GOP efforts to cripple schools and then point to them and say they’re crippled (using NCLB testing/AYP) is their way of greasing the skids for privatizing education.

    It’s odd that conservatives don’t see brain cells as a natural resource or education as a national security issue -if they did they’d fund public education like they do defense. The other 6.5 billion people in the world can crack a textbook as well as our kids -and we’re all being left behind. Hows that good for business? For the nation?

    In my estimation, both sides in this debate miss the fundamental problem with education -that somehow most students leave high school with virtually no critical thinking skills, leaving them unprepared to deal with new and complex information and more prone to believing propaganda.  Thinking skills should be required curriculum -a class of it’s own- throughout a child’s education.


  • John Crampton says:

    January 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    George… great points on critical thinking.  I wonder how many AYP test questions address global climate change, or even evolution?  How many questions delve into the genocide against indigenous people and species in the pursuit of profits now, in the past, and future?  How many AYP test questions ask students about overpopulation or pollution?

    The real intent of NCLB is to catch and punish the teachers, schools and students who were doing something other than transmitting and regurgitating the standard propaganda and christian nazi baloney that passes for knowledge in our culture. 

    Hey, Miss Jones, your kids did really well on AYP tests this year.  Where are you going to take them?  “We’re going to Noah’s Ark Theme Park in Kentucky!”

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    This is a very good & very pertinent question to ask. One must “benchmark” to establish a baseline in order to manage outcomes. A universal benchmark allows one to measure, compare and improve outcomes. Benchmark measurements allow for experimentation to improve outcomes.

    This approach is working in other countries and there are “best practices” here in the U.S. as well. We need to implement best practices from anywhere in order to continuously improve the education of our children.

    Testing allows for benchmark measurement in order to improve education. The only valid question is how much is enough?

  • John Crampton says:

    January 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Mike, with all due respect, that benchmarking phase ought to have been done about 8 years ago. 

    NCLB is not about benchmarking, it’s about putting money in the pockets of Pearson and Sylvan and Jeb Bush’s companies.  As far as “best practices” are concerned, I don’t know of any pedagogy that considers a best practice to be “teaching to the test,” which unfortunately, so many of our schools and teachers are doing now.

    If we’re going to test, let’s do it less often, let’s make it count and let’s test the children’s ability to think critically about the mess of a world we are leaving them. 


  • Christeen Stone says:

    January 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I would like to add an AMEN! to both the
    emails at the top. Just a bit of history
    as I heard it in Texas, Governor Ann Richards instigated this idea as a one time testing for Texas schools because she felt they were in bad shape. I had five relatives and many teacher friends who agreed with her assessment and thought it was a good idea. George Bush followed her as governor and he thought it was such a good idea he took it national when he became president. She had intended it as a one time test to see where to go from there.
    Those relatives and many of the friends quit in disgust a few years into his experiment, and began more worthwhile careers working with children, because they felt it was a failure to just keep drilling for tests. We have a lot of good educated teachers willing to really teach for success, we need to quit restraining them. Those students are our future and they deserve the best.


  • George F. Greene says:

    January 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    The other valid question is whether these tests should be used for ANYTHING other than getting a very general idea of where kids are in academic progress.

    The problems with relying on tests for academic progress -and more so for school evaluation- have been known for many decades. Testing was long ago relegated to narrow uses until Conservatives brought the issue back up kinda like they brought creation “science”  up to “teach the controversy” so they could shoehorn religion into science class.

    What was once rationally decided has been made “controversial” again so they can make schools fail. Sometimes it feels like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole where nonsense is sense.

  • Peter says:

    January 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I have performed extensive research of the instruction booklets for principals or counselors which accompanied standardized test booklets going back to their emergence from psychology in the early 1920s as part of my Master’s research paper at the University of Minnesota.

    The early psychologists who invented these tests considered the possibility of their current use in schools and specifically forbad it.  They claimed that their tests were best used for assessing the knowledge and distribution of knowledge of an incoming college class for creating sections or levels of courses.

    They also spent 2 years norming and roughly 5 years developing their tests before release.  This is no longer the case, but assuming it were and the tests possessed statistical reliability.

    The purpose of standardized testing changed around 1960 as their was a primer in the booklet describing how a principal should have a conversation with a failing teacher.  The tests had not changed substantially.  The publishers of the tests were no longer psychologists either.  They were testing companies looking to market their product to the widest possible audience.  Their marketing has been successful not because their product fulfills the needs of the consumer, but because the consumer has such needs. 

    While there are many analogies that can be drawn to this fact, it tells us something important.  A need exists.  The intention of the people using these tests is to get rid of failing teachers and provide a measure of student achievement in a school.  No product exists that can accomplish this, therefore any project that seems to accomplish it is acceptable. 

    Is the need to improve student achievement and eliminate failing teachers or is the need to appear as if they are doing something about the aforementioned?

    I’m reminded of a farmer on the radio saying that a good, fat pig is a good, fat pig no matter how many times you weigh it.

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm


    Benchmarking can start at anytime. It is never too late to benchmark, learn from best practices and improve.

    BTW, Jeb Bush initiated education reform that has paid great dividends in education outcomes in FL. FL no longer has an achievement gap; even MN can learn from FL’s program to turn their achievement gap totally around!

  • Dan Conner says:

    January 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    It so amusing reading from a Tea Partier writing about all that we need to learn from FL, even though Florida redundantly scores near the bottom of the states in one of the oldest stadardized tests - ACT.  Many comparisons using other countries have been offered for this same Tea Partier for other states and countries, but he didn’t want to compare if it meant spending more or achieving better results.  Now he wants to compare.  I wonder why?  No doubt he has not researched it very well.

    Minnesota and every other state can always learn from each other.  However, the meassage should be about improving performance and not a way to selfishly spend less money.  FL is the same state who elected a CEO from a felonious health care insurer.  The same governor who wants to mandate urinalysis tests for all welfare and unemployment recipients, but who refuses the tests for himself, and has popularity in the toilet.  I think I read that only 15% of FL voters approve of him.

    I think the writer has recommended far too many poorly researched ideas.  He seems to look at a methodology as the end, instead of the result as an end.

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm


    I just spent 3 weeks in FL. I find the people in the Southeast to be warmer, more caring, more loving, more happy, more thankful, more interesting, less arrogant, etc. than most Minnesotans. Is this due to a much more conservative population in FL than MN?

    They are doing quite fine without your arrogant and disrespectful name calling.

  • Karl Hodgson says:

    January 11, 2012 at 12:02 am

    I’ve got bad news for all of you “No Child Left Behind” is to make billions of dollars for the corporation I worked for right here in good old Minnesota-National Computer Systems bought shortly before that 911 “attack” by Pearson Plc. the huge British Empire conglomerate run at that time by the seventh most powerful idiot on earth, Baron Lord Dennis Stevenson, Bilderberger, chairman of God knows how many stupid companies and banks and head of the Queen’s appointment commission for the House of Lords!  Oh it gets better than that after we were bought for 2.5 billion-cash by the “Lord”(ha ha) they had GW Bush come up and hand us the no-bid, cost plus contract to set up the nifty TSA for ya all.  Groping grandma’s genitals at the airport?  Checking for Bin Laden in your shorts?(didn’t they claim he took a dive in the ocean or something though?  It’s just about billions of testing dollars folks forcing every school in every town, city, and village to fork over huge sums to test the kids on God knows what-whatever the real rulers want to program the kids with?  Hmnn….Bilderberg?  Yup and the “lord” was also a board member of Rothchild.  They are going to control the little hamsters now globally, Pearson operates in at least 64 countries and makes billions.  Who would benefit from all these corporate tests?  why of course!  The corporation that sold them!  Oh it gets better but then everyone seems to be in the MATRIX so maybe I should just wish you all well, go back following the Vikings(who stink this year) and watch the oil price which backs the dollar which is in decline because America is over-it’s a GLOBAL ECONOMY, China makes over 70% of the world’s goods now which is why they have trillions and gazillions of dollars and we are broke and borrowing gazillions.  Both parties are a joke too so it’s just entertainment unless you voted for Ventura who actually is pretty smart!  He moved down to Mexico though for the winter.  Ron Paul is smart but I think we have probably been had since Andrew Jackson finished his term-he was the only president who ran America debt free.  Do you realize these fractional banksters can issue “money” right out of thin air?  Yup!  Couldn’t make gold like the alchemists tried so they came up with this scam but they use it against us.  Too bad we could have had a good country and led the world by example instead of bombing it.  Well bombs do make a big boom when they blow up and they do want to control the oil so…’s almost time for Hollywood Insider!  Do you know I never believed Natalie Wood drowned like they said either.  Great actress whirlpool eyes.
      I call them the syndicate others might call them other names but they do run everything.  Isn’t it time to change David Rockefeller’s diaper?  Something stinks in America.  I sure miss the 1950’s!  Detroit was a nice place back then too.  We had a consumer economy remember the cool cars with chrome boobs on the front bumpers?  Wow!  America invented everything back then but today?  Well they are working on germ weapons I think or something.  Onward with the Empire!  Just propaganda to test the kids while making billions.  They don’t want the kids to really think you know-dangerous!

  • Dan Conner says:

    January 13, 2012 at 12:12 am


    Sounds like a good place for you to take up residence.

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 13, 2012 at 10:40 am


    I do own a home in FL and I am a FL resident but I do pay MN taxes (a lot of them!).

    I can easily make a comparison between Minnesotans who are cold & unfriendly (your response is a great example!) whereas Floridians are warm & friendly. Is it due to the temperature, is is due to the number of sun days or is it due to the fact that conservatives are happier, give more and volunteer more?