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Reinventing the Wheel, Again

November 3, 2010

Long form essays instead of short answer questions.

Research projects instead of fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice questions.

Ongoing projects that evolve into an assessment portfolio.

No, I’m not talking about Finland’s approach to assessment, though I very well could be. Students there aren’t required to take batteries of timed standardized tests at all. Rather, teachers give assignments and projects, and assess student progress by (gasp!) actually looking at their work.

I’m also not talking about my own educational experience. Though I and my peers took a smattering of standardized tests, assessments of our readiness to advance to the next grade level were made primarily on the basis of…our actual work. (We got lucky. We were the last ones out before the testing juggernaut really gained steam.)

No, I’m talking about the vision of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a 26-state coalition that is working to improve our national assessment system in the hopes of ensuring that all American students can do all the stuff suggested by their stilted, clunky name. They recently received almost $170 million in support of their work, and they’re currently

casting a wide net for input, consulting not only K-12 testing experts but college faculty and administrators. Gandal admits this will be “not easy, because the two systems are not used to working together.” The hoped-for payoff, though, could be worth it. “At the end of high school, there will be a set of tests that students take that will tell them whether they’re ready for college,” he vows. “If you score college-ready, you should be able to walk in the door at any two- or four-year institution and not require remedial courses.”

Hmm. Perhaps if they added K-12 teachers to the list of people they’re consulting, they’d realize that what they’re describing is the system that already exists in many high-performing nations, most highly-esteemed private schools here and abroad, and what even existed (and in a few places, remains) in many high-performing American public schools and school districts before No Child Left Behind.

The main difference here is that they’re trying to merge this more organic, authentic assessment model with the demands of a huge federal education bureaucracy, which is too far removed from the classroom to fairly assess student progress (and doesn’t trust people on the ground to do it ourselves). Meanwhile, they’re spending $170 million on this effort alone, in addition to the billions that have already been spent scoring and sorting and ranking and punishing schools on the basis of the old tests, which they finally (albeit half-heartedly) admit are inadequate. Once they’re done developing this “new” assessment model, it will then cost even more money to administer and maintain. (But don’t worry– they’re hoping that “economies of scale and the use of ‘artificial intelligence’ to score tests can keep costs manageable.”)

I’m really hoping that someday, in the not-so-distant future, I’ll stop reading serious education stories that sound like something out of The Onion. I’m also hoping that my government will stop wasting money on things like this when there are real, honest-to-goodness shortcomings in our school system (like inadequate resources in the classroom, out-of-control class sizes, outdated approaches to teaching and learning…and a meddlesome education bureaucracy that sucks time and resources away from teaching and learning in its misguided experimental attempts to…measure teaching and learning).

Seriously, President Obama and Secretary Duncan: there are people out there who want to abolish the Department of Education entirely. Wasteful projects like these are NOT helping anyone defend you!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. markfriedman1 permalink
    November 3, 2010 5:20 pm

    Don’t you worry yourself over that business. Duncan is confident that he can pull enough bipartisanship into the Democrats for Education Reform/RTTT camp that any murmuring and questioning can effectively be demolished rough shod. We’ll see what becomes of RTTT and other state ed funding issues now and how all that politrickin really goes:

  2. November 3, 2010 8:03 pm

    Right on.

    And another thing… colleges can bite me. Seriously. If they don’t want to offer remedial classes, then they should stop accepting students who need them. Problem solved! These people have admissions departments, don’t they? They can give any test that they want, and they’re under no compulsion to accept anyone.

    The truth is that there are all kinds of colleges, and they’re all scrambling to fill seats. This notion of “college-ready” is about a vacuous as any of the other empty phrases Duncan utters on a daily basis. This $170m he just blew on testing? Appalling.

    • Yvonne Siu-Runyan permalink
      November 4, 2010 4:23 pm

      There are a lot of lame ideas out there. And they are coming from people who have not a clue and would be eaten alive if they had to work in the classroom unassisted for one whole month.

  3. November 4, 2010 5:56 pm

    Preach it, sister! What a waste of money. Government sucks at most things, but sadly one of the things it sucks at the most is education.


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