Anti-Intellectual, Anti-Accountability, and Anti-Progress

The Hechinger Report has a long piece about the shifting sands of standards in Massachusetts:

Teachers and parents around the country have questioned whether any “cookie cutter” test can capture how much an individual student knows. The [old Massachusetts test] has long been considered one of the nation’s best tests at assessing student performance. But the shift to the Common Core State Standards meant it would have to go. The PAARC tests, used in states such as Illinois and New Jersey since 2015, were supposed to be even better. Not the joy-killing machines ruining childhood, as so many critics have portrayed standardized tests, but true measures of whether children were learning the key skills they would need as grown-ups: how to think critically, solve problems, make a convincing argument, and write a coherent paragraph.

Teachers always have used tests to assess student performance. I took tests, you took tests, we all took tests. Content standards and their concomitant testing regimes do not exist not because schools needed testing, but rather because we needed to make sure that we had universally high standards for vulnerable children. No matter how sophisticated an individual teacher is, he or she alone cannot determine the needs of all kids, particularly the ones who need the most attention and resources. That's why I cannot understand what Barbara Madeloni, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, is talking about:

already know.gif
Madeloni rejects the premise that such a thing as a “good” one-size-fits-all test even exists ... Arguments like that drive Ronald Hambleton crazy. He’s the executive director of the Center for Educational Assessment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has served on committees for both PARCC and MCAS. He says that for the relatively small amount of time and money that is spent on testing, the returns are hugely valuable. “You need the assessment piece to provide feedback about strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “School reports, district reports, state reports — a tremendous amount of information is available" ... Madeloni argues that everyone already knew that achievement gaps exist between Massachusetts’s wealthy suburbs and its poor cities ...

"Everyone already knew" is a pernicious idea in public policy.* It's anti-intellectual, anti-accountability, and anti-progress. If everyone already knew, why didn't we do anything about it? If everyone already knew, why wasn't there a concerted effort to close the opportunity gap in Massachusetts before the state adopted standards and accountability in the 1990s?

While she derides the idea of protecting vulnerable children, Madeloni's primary political goal is to prevent the highest performing schools in Boston from expanding and receiving more resources. In the meantime, the national Civil Rights community is fighting for low-income children, whose interests will be easier to ignore if Madeloni gets her way on standards and the expansion of educational options. Keep an eye on the growing rift between the Massachusetts Teachers Union and the national Civil Rights community, as the politics are bound to get ugly between now and election season.

* An earlier version of this blog post said that this was "the most pernicious," but after a little reflection, I realized I was wrong about that, so I changed it.