I (heart) Testing
This is one of those instances where you get the sense that critiquing the argument gives it the attention it doesn't deserve, but what the hell.
Not only do we not need less testing, we may in fact need more testing, and we certainly need better testing.
We need tests that produce disaggregated data that shifts away from using schools and districts as the essential unit of analysis, and instead turn toward analyzing classrooms in this way. Test data is the educator's report card, and we need to be held accountable to it, if only as a small attempt to rectify the imbalance between how poor teaching affects life outcomes of the teacher, versus how it affects life outcomes of the student. High-stakes test are fine -- life is high-stake, so let's prepare kids for being in environments where standing and delivering matter. They are mildly intrusive and difficult, but hell, the workload of Friday quizzes at my school at least equals, and may actually exceed the two hours of CSTs we administer in May.
I can't help but feel some of the outcry about all this is a desire to avoid a reckoning, avoid a public assessment of effectiveness and quality.
So yeah, as we fight against the reduction of tests, we must also advocate for better testing. In California, our tests are summative, but they are not prescriptive or diagnostic. CST results provide a general sense of where kids are in relation to the standards, but they do not go nearly far enough. What does it mean, in terms of instruction, when a kid scores Below Basic? What do they really need to know to make up the lost ground? Our tests do not tell us this. When kids score Far Below Basic, where are they, truly? Our tests do not tell us this and they do not allow students to demonstrate (at times multi-year) growth within that quintile. CST and like tests are effective summative assessments, they inform student grouping and placement, but once Day 1 begins, they have lost all instructional value.
California's API suffers in similar ways. It attempts to be a growth-based measure, but time-1 is calculated at the end of school year X, and time-2 is the end of school year Y. This must change, because it compares growth across different populations. This is especially damaging to schools with a small grade range (we used to be 7-8), where it is necessary to grow beyond the achievement levels of the previous year with large percentages of new students, and no way to build upon the successes of the past year because those kids had already graduated. API then, should measure from the first day of school to the last.
Assessment is part of the cycle of teaching and learning, and while there are probably extreme examples of over-testing and over-preparing, I can think of only a few valid reasons why we should advocate for less testing.
1) The tests lack all validity or reliability.
2) Success on the tests does not translate to mastery of the standards (e.g. High Point unit assessments) because the tests are either not aligned to standards, aligned to below grade level standards, are otherwise fundamentally flawed.
3) The material to be assessed is considered to be of relatively little value (i.e. the standards have been poorly chosen, written, or assembled).
4) Truly, truly assessment has become so frequent that it impedes instruction. And if you're gonna use this one, you better be really bringing it every minute of the (non-testing) day.