Testing Dangers and Opportunities

Testing Dangers and Opportunities
July 22, 2014

School Choice Weekly #45

For the past 40 years, tests have formed the cornerstone of national education policy. Common Core is changing all that.

The Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst thinks it’s most likely the ensuing muddle will give rise to “accountability 3.0” after the new set of tests and curriculum mandates has exhausted itself upon yet another generation of guinea pigs. Whatever happens, it will significantly shape all of education policy, including whether growing school choices deserve the name. Whitehurst writes:

One thing I’m sure about in education is how little we know about what works best for which students under what circumstances to produce the best long-term outcomes. This includes how to design an optimal standards and accountability system. Accountability 3.0 doesn’t have to look like Accountability 2.0. That’s certain. Perhaps it is time for central government to yield some of the control over standards and accountability that it has amassed in the last 30 years in exchange for the opportunity for districts and schools to innovate around what students are taught and how the actors in the system are held accountable.

In other words, the Common Core debacle could be opening a window of opportunity to expand individual liberty in education. It could be a moment where we realize education’s increasing centralization has not benefitted children, and it might move us to give families and educators more freedom. As Whitehurst says, competition includes its own natural form of accountability, where schools that do a poor job shut down because they cannot attract students.

Another testing trend may both endanger and supplement this thought experiment. Some colleges are interested in substituting a new kind of tests for the SAT and ACT. They want to measure a student’s soft skills, or character, because these more than mental prowess can determine whether a student sticks it out until graduation. If behavioral tests merely replace ACT, SAT, and current skills-based state tests, then government will be free to regulate attitudes and behavior instead of mere academics.

But if accountability 3.0 turns out to be market accountability, where parents are free to choose the schools and tests they think will benefit their children most, then coercion and manipulation retreats, and individuals will be free to use or discard what tools they wish to employ in their pursuit of happiness.

SOURCES: Education Next, Nautilus


School Choice Roundup

  • CHARTERS: Children learn more for less money in charter schools, finds a new study from the University of Arkansas. The study breaks down its finding by each of the 28 states for which data were available. The most dramatic cost difference was in Washington DC, where charter schools are at least twice as effective at teaching math and reading for every $1,000 spent on them as traditional public schools.

Common Core Watch

Education Today

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