Leaky Logic

The New York Times has a story about a Columbia professor who has become a hero of sorts within the anti-testing crowd for leaking items from this year's PARCC examination. Peter Greene called it a "brave act of rebellion," while the head of the group that makes the test said that leaking the items "compromises the fairness" of the test itself, as many students have yet to take this year's exam.

I'm all for transparency, but it's hard to believe that this action is anything other than an attempt to undermine the test:

But many teachers and opponents of standardized testing say parents must have a way to assess the standardized tests their children take ... The teacher who leaked the questions said in the original post that she was providing the material anonymously over concerns about “intense legal ramifications,” but felt compelled to tell others how “the high-stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.”

First of all, if you're an avowed "opponent of standardized testing," why should we be looking to you for substantive commentary about test items? That's like asking someone who wants to abolish Medicare what he thinks physician reimbursement rates should be. Somehow, it's just hard to take that person's advice seriously, because he's already said he wants to undermine the system.

Second, the most important kind of transparency in education is knowing how our most vulnerable students are performing. Standardized tests are an imperfect means of making those judgments, but they are by far the most objective measure in our current toolkit. Undermining the very tests we use to make those assessments - which is what also is happening in the Opt Out movement - is an attempt to obfuscate results.

I'm all for a close read, and it's hard to read this teacher's actual words and not arrive at the conclusion that this was an attempt at sabotage, not transparency. There is an important debate to have about how much testing schools should conduct and on what timelines. We should also debate to what extent schools and teachers ought to be accountable for those results. What I read above is not that conversation; it's an attempt to sabotage policymakers' ability to know how our most vulnerable students are doing in schools, masquerading as civil disobedience.