Like most people who have struggled with weight, there was a time when I decided to deal with the problem by simply refusing to get on the scale.
I know I am not alone in this behavior. But eventually, other evidence (outgrowing a favorite pair of jeans, a bad blood pressure reading) usually brings people back to the recognition that, however unpleasant they may be, regular weigh-ins promote accountability.
That’s true for school systems as well, particularly for high-performing systems. It’s all too easy for high average test scores to mask some real problems.
In an op ed in The Washington Post yesterday, I pointed out that although Montgomery County, Md., has, on average, a very good school system, those averages mask wide divisions in performance.
On average, 44.1 percent of MCPS students scored at the advanced level on the state’s elementary school reading exam. But while 60 percent of white students achieved that goal, only 27.4 percent of African American students did. In math, the numbers are roughly equivalent. While 45.8 percent of all students performed at the advanced level, just 24.3 percent of black students achieved that level, compared with 62.3 percent of white students.
Look, I know that nobody likes testing. And, as my colleague Susan Headden has pointed out elsewhere, many of today’s tests are still at a fairly rudimentary level.
But recent Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) data show that even these not-so-great tests can reveal a lot. Today’s relatively low-level tests are effective as one measure of identifying high-quality teachers. And that’s why I urge school systems not to abandon federally-mandated testing.
In Eduwonk this morning, Andy Rotherham proposes zero-based testing. It may be a good idea, he says, to look at the range of tests that students take, including “state and local assessments as well as teacher created ones, all for different purposes and often of varying quality. ” There are some tests that survive more because of inertia than relevance. Those are tests that can be eliminated.
Stepping on the scale is usually not the high point of anyone’s day. Getting the results of state testing can often be a challenge as well. But the data they provide are the only way to make sure that we don’t just say we want to meet a goal . . . we actually meet it.
(Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the MET study, also funds Education Sector.)
Photo Credit: Santiago Canyon College