Sunday, May 1, 2016

Teresa Keegan Demeans Non-College-Educated Workers to Promote Standardized Testing in Denver Post

Standardized testing - what could be wrong?

The role of standardized testing in public education continues to complicate discussions about students and learning and achievement. A major problem is people who look so superficially at the idea of education and assessment that they can't begin to fathom what could be wrong and why some parents and teachers criticize testing and "opt out." The latest argument published by the Denver Post comes from Teresa Keegan who overimplifies the issue, complicates her own argument with conflicting information, and succeeds in demeaning and insulting 7 in 10 adults who work in fields that don't rely on academic skills. Here's her piece titled: Fourteen Centuries of Standardized Testing Can't be Wrong.

But what happens when these untested kids grow up? Those who wish to become lawyers are not going to be able to "opt out" of the grueling two-day bar exam. Anyone who wants to enter the lucrative accounting field must take the four-part, 14-hour CPA exam. Will these people even be able to pass a driving test? Of course, there is one surefire way to avoid the stress that comes with qualifying for grown-up professional jobs. There are currently no testing or licensure requirements to be a retail sales associate at Walmart.

Here's my response to her:

Ms. Keegan,
While I generally enjoy and agree with your pieces for the Post, I am quite disappointed in the naive and myopic view of testing you take in your most recent piece. It is an example of the general public who have scant knowledge of education, pedagogy, assessment, and learning. While you start off on the right foot with your connection to the problems of Confucian era testing, you veer off at the end into a superficial generalization at the end which implies that since someday some kids will need to take tests for a job, then all standardized testing is simply practice for that future and thus beneficial. This generalization overlooks genuine questions about our goals and endpoints of education. A future civil servant or accountant is making a choice to enter that field. And your comparison to a driver's test is petty and misguided.
A key positive of your piece is noting that these tests (PARCC, ACT, etc.) assess only academic skills which represent only a snapshot of how kids "test," but nothing more. However, I was quite shocked at the end when you pretentiously and rather curtly dismiss the value of anyone who does not pursue academic skills and bachelor degrees and white collar work. By demeaning people who work in retail and skilled labor, you have exposed a flaw in your argument and the problems of the "college-for-all" mentality. Shame on you, Ms. Keegan. Do you not know that only 3 in 10 Americans have a four-year degree and work in a field that requires one? If you - and other pro-PARCC voices - succeed in preparing 100% of students for four-year degree and promise them white collar "academic" careers, who will work in the service industry, repair your cars and plumbing, build houses and office buildings, take out the garbage, clean the offices, stock the grocery shelves, etc, etc., etc.? Yes, some engineer will create an iPhone, and some marketing exec will commercialize it. But that product is worthless without the hundreds of thousands of workers who assemble the phone, sell the phone, and service the phone (not to mention the whole related infrastructure). Have you given much thought to the "non-academic" role played by the truck drivers who deliver all the products on which you depend for your job and your writing hobby? Your ignorance of the roles all workers play in a dynamic economy lacks the precise sort of "critical thinking" that we desperately try to teach kids ... and which is rarely "assessed" by companies like Pearson.
Additionally, the "opt out movement" does not support the elimination of all tests. They are for scrutiny of who is being tested, what is being tested, how much they/it is being tested, and, most importantly, what is being done with the data. They are critical of the quality of the tests and the "quality control" in determining which assessments we use. Do you have any expertise in math and language arts assessment? Is the PARCC an accurate test of skills? Is it norm or criterion referenced? Have the proficiency cut points been piloted and cross referenced? How can different states have different cut points for PARCC proficiency? How can PARCC honestly declare that "ZERO percent" of high school students in Illinois are advanced"? Knowing many top national schools and students in Illinois, I know for certain that "data" like this exposes serious flaws in the system, and those flaws are not only deserving of far more scrutiny than you would pursue, but they also demand a refusal to submit to the test until the validity of the measures are determined. 
Have you given any thought to these concerns and issues? Assessment has a role - and so does careful scrutiny of the tests and the process. As a parent and a teacher and a school administrator, I think carefully about these issues on a daily basis. I write extensively on the issue, and I've testified before the State Board of Education and the Senate Education Committee. And, I am troubled by people superficially commenting on serious educational issues.
I would be happy to discuss the issue of standardized tests and assessment policy with you further if you have any interest in learning more about the issue. Let's chat before you decide to publish another piece on testing.
Michael Mazenko
A Teacher's View

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