While the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is rather unlikely at this point, reforms around academic standards and testing are still alive—and arguably more so than a decade ago. My colleagues, Susan Headden and Bill Tucker, contribute to a special report from Washington Monthly, out today, that explores new Common Core State Standards, the assessments associated with them, and how testing may never look the same.
In “A Test Worth Teaching To,” Headden, Education Sector’s senior writer, points out that while “teaching to the test” is generally viewed as a pejorative, both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses “are essentially yearlong exercises in test prep.” So why don’t teachers and students complain about these tests? Because, she says, the tests themselves measure and advance “higher-order skills for all students.” Headden explores the assessments currently under development by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The new tests still face many hurdles. Even with the economies of scale that will come from developing test items for many states, the new assessments are likely to be more expensive to administer. “But if we do this right,” she argues, the United States could finally end up with “a test worth teaching to.”
In “Grand Test Auto,” Tucker, former managing director of Education Sector, argues that the end of testing may be on the horizon. He recalls the days when grocery stores had to close their doors so staff members could laboriously count every item on the shelves. Today, “they can constantly monitor their shelves through bar codes, scanners, and radio-frequency devices.” Schools, he argues, are still operating in the pre-technology phase. Every year, “schools across the nation still essentially close to conduct inventory—only we don’t call it that. We call it ‘testing.’” New forms of computer assessment, he argues, will improve both assessment and instruction. Students’ performance will be quickly measured. Teachers will understand more about what students have learned—and where they still need instruction. Best of all, he says, “the sit-down-stop-everything-else test may, within the decade, seem as old-fashioned as counting tubes of toothpaste on a supermarket shelf.”