What to Do about Testing: A Response to Audrey Waters

Audrey Waters posted about John Oliver’s takedown of testing and Pearson Ed.  She asks:

How do we seize the opportunity of all this media attention to the problems with standardized testing to do more than talk about testing?  . . . Can we articulate (a better alternative) now so that Pearson and other testing companies don’t replace the old model with simply a re-branded, repackaged one?

Samuel Messick was a Vice President and Distinguished Research Scientist at Educational Testing Services (ETS).  His was an authoritative voice on test validity advocating for restraint in the use of test scores, better and more in-depth interpretations of test score. the collection of multiple sources of information for making important decisions and for consideration of the consequences of test use.  I believe that much of his legacy has been ignored, co-opted, or argued away (even at ETS I suspect).  I’ll speculate on what would he advocate;

  • using more than one or two sources of information when making complex important decisions,
  • understanding the information in the context of a decision and considering the consequences of your testing practices.
  • I also suspect that I could argue with him for the consideration of the validity of testing practices with how it fit within an overall set of district practices.  (i.e. If a student fails, how do you respond?)

Technically Pearson may not be at fault for it is the district use of tests that is most problematic, but Pearson is at least implicit in not providing better guidance and for developing ways for districts  to collect other sources of information.  Eg. The value added model of teacher assessment needs many more sources of information and in fact does not really provide an assessable model of pedagogy, only largely discredited positivist assertions. The first step is to expose those who advocate positivist models of empiricism for which even analytic philosophers would no longer advocate.

Finally it necessary to look at the overall model of education which is still primarily built of a mechanistic metaphor with the student as a vessel to be filled.  The metaphor should be a biological organism adapting in an environment that is primarily social, networked and interactive.  When Pearson speaks of their “potential game-changer: performance tasks”, they are talking in this direction, but their really co-opting performance tasks within the old metaphor.  They have a long way to go.  We should expunge the mechanistic metaphor from educational leadership and assessment models.

The bottom line for Pearson

You may not be technically wrong in your assessments, but when your the brunt of a comedic takedown, you should really look at the consequences of your products use and attempt to deal with it.

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