“Tests Great”–“Less Knowing”

Remember those funny television commercials where two sports celebrities faux-argued about the benefits of Miller Lite beer?  One would shout and pound the table to make the point that Miller Lite “Tastes Great,” and the other would (supposedly) disagree by responding with equal fervor that it was “Less Filling.”

I’m suggesting an Education Reform version after a generation of high-stakes testing pressure brought on by No Child Left Behind and continued in the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” program.

If I were producing a series of ads, I would cast Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Kaya Henderson,  John King, Kati Haycock, Pearson Education President John Fallon, Eva Moskowitz, Campbell Brown and a few other prominent supporters of test-based reform.

One would pound the table and proclaim that our students “Test Great!”

Another would respond with equal fervor that our students are “Less Knowing!”

But yesterday I scrapped my plans for the campaign, because it turns out that, after years of test-based reform, our kids do NOT “Test Great,” although apparently they are “Less Knowing.”

Here’s what Jennifer Kerr reported for the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not a promising picture for the nation’s high school seniors – they are slipping in math, not making strides in reading and only about one-third are prepared for the academic challenges of entry-level college courses.

Scores released Wednesday from the so-called Nation’s Report Card show one-quarter of 12th-graders taking the test performed proficiently or better in math. Only 37 percent of the students were proficient or above in reading.”

It turns out that scores are down five points over the last 23 years on the (poorly named) “National Assessment of Educational Progress.”  The newest NAEP scores also reveal a widening gap in math and reading between those who score well and those who do not. That has to be particularly disappointing to those reformers who go on and on about ‘Closing the Achievement Gap.’

Only 37% of students scored well enough in both reading and math to be deemed academically ready for college, roughly the same percentage as in 2013.

The executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which manages NAEP, told reporters, “We’re not making the academic progress that we need to so that there’s greater preparedness for post-secondary, for work, for military participation. These numbers aren’t going the way we want.”

Bill Bushaw did not try to explain why this is happening, nor did he blame the victim, but perhaps it’s time someone pointed out that test-based accountability, which has meant more drill and test prep and cuts in art, music, drama and all sorts of other courses that aren’t deemed ‘basic,’ has failed miserably–and there are victims.

Students have been the losers, sentenced to mind-numbing schooling. Teachers who care about their craft have been the losers. Craven administrators who couldn’t or didn’t stand up for what they know about learning have been the losers.  Add to the list of losers the general public, because the drumbeat of bad news has undercut faith in public education.

There are winners: The testing companies (particularly Pearson), the academics who’ve gotten big grants from major foundations, profiteers in the charter school industry, and ideologues and politicians who want to undermine public education.

As I see it, the underlying message of the newest NAEP results is that “The emperor has no clothes.” We’ve actually known this for some time, so isn’t it time to acknowledge the truth?


8 thoughts on ““Tests Great”–“Less Knowing”

  1. Yes, John, I totally agree with the inefficacy of our test culture. It is harmful and unproductive and a symptom of the bottom-line mentality that our emphasis on consumerism has produced. Perhaps the new statistics will be of assistance in reeducating our national education leaders as well as the general populace about the vacuity of the way we are approaching education today. We already know what it takes to educate a young student well, and no shortcut to that process will ever be successful.


  2. It isn’t the students who have become “dumb” at math, it isn’t the teachers. It is the way math is taught. Math is hard for most people to learn, so it takes time – lots of time! If it were slowed down, taught in a more straight forward manner, I truly believe that the “problem” of poor math skills would be solved. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a group of schools taught math as it was taught in the 50’s and 60’s when nearly everyone learned math and learned it well. What would it mean if the students really did learn math and were capable of learning higher math later on?? It is possible!


  3. There is evidence of that from the NAEP results, John. Those who said they prepared for state tests “not at all” scored a 291 on the reading test, while those who said they prepared for state assessments “to a great extent” scored 282.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s