The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better by Daniel Koretz

13. Doing Better

  • Daniel starts by looking at Finland, the Netherlands, and Singapore. All score well on international tests but get there in different ways. The Finns only have one test at age 16, give more local autonomy, do a better job of preparing and paying teachers, have no private schools, and don’t start heavy-duty instruction until age seven. The Dutch also have much local autonomy, public and private schools that get public funding, and schools use tests that they select. A national school inspection agency helps keep all schools on track and poor performing schools get more inspections. Singapore is highly centralized and uses tests throughout, but the only high-stakes test is given at the end for university placement so it is high-stakes for students, unlike US tests. Most students attend test prep schools after school.
  • Daniel recommends that we measure what matters, which is more than we currently measure. The big three are student achievement, teacher practice, and classroom climate. Most states have come up with some kind of observation model that allows for a consistent manner of teacher observations. Thirty-three states allow or require the use of student surveys. This can be problematic. Oversight by outsiders may be necessary. We have to recognize that targets be reasonable for the schools and students based on where they are at. Human judgment for better or worse has to be part of the solution. The problem isn’t the tests so much as how they have been used. Finally, teachers need supports based on their needs and the nature of the students they serve.

14. Wrapping Up

  • Test-based accountability has lead to cheating, cutting corners, and failure and it has been resilient in light of failures. While reformers have probably had good intentions, they have come up with the cheap and easy way to make educators accountable. ESSA broadens the focus and asks each state to come up with some other measure of teacher effectiveness. It’s up to the states to try new ways and report on how they work. They should try to stay away from measures that can be gamed and be willing to discard efforts that don’t work. Tinkering with what we have is unacceptable, but coming up with something new will be difficult. Daniel’s key message is that we must try and not give in to the test and punish mavens.

Daniel Koretz

  • Daniel is the Henry Lee Shatuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the author of Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us.
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