Putting standardized testing to the test

With spring comes the annual ritual of MCAS testing in Massachusetts schools. It’s how we gauge the performance of individual students as well as schools and districts. The assessment of basic skills in math, English, and, more recently, science offers a snapshot of academic achievement levels, and it is the central measure used in the state’s accountability system that aims to hold schools responsible for outcomes.

And, argues Jack Schneider, it fundamentally gets everything wrong.

The UMass Lowell professor wrote in his recent book, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality, “We have two decades of evidence that current approaches to educational measurement are insufficient and irresponsible.”

Schneider says on this week’s Codcast that test scores serve only as “demographic data in disguise,” telling us more about the family income of students than about the quality of their education.

He’s part of a cohort of critics who say the testing and accountability systems that have accompanied the modern education reform movement have served to narrow the curriculum — particularly in schools serving lots of poor kids. Test scores, he says, tell us nothing about how safe students feel, whether they are “developing as citizens,” and whether they feel engaged by school.