Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Darling-Hammond has some smart things to say about testing

Linda Darling-Hammond thinks that passage of a new bipartisan ESEA bill is "really possible". I doubt it. But I don't run in those circles.

Writing this week in Huffington Post, she says any new federal legislation has to represent a break from the old No Child Left Behind, especially on testing and assessment. She correctly points out that despite NCLB's focus on more and more standardized testing, "achievement gains have slowed in the NCLB era, and achievement gaps have remained stubbornly large". Many of her criticisms of current testing approaches also apply to the new PARCC exams.

You might remember that Darling-Hammond was unceremoniously dumped and exiled back to Palo Alto by an Obama administration that had bought uncritically into the worst aspects of corporate-style reform. Fearful that she was too teacher/union friendly, they handed the D.O.E. over to Arne Duncan instead. The consequences have been disastrous for public education.

I still think Darling-Hammond is too accepting of Common Core standards and of testing as a driver of curriculum. But, I think she offers some smart ideas about how and why we test. They include:
  • Assessment results should be reported and used for information and improvement, rather than for labeling schools or administering sanctions, a purpose for which they were never intended. 
  • Federal law should no longer prescribe technical features of tests - how they are designed and administered -- in ways that prevent innovation and change. 
  • States should be invited to create integrated systems of state- and locally-administered assessments that provide information for the multiple purposes they need to serve, combining rich assessments to describe annual student learning and progress in ways that can inform teaching. 
  • ESEA should encourage accountability systems based on multiple measures of student success, as well as students' opportunities to learn.
She gives examples from other countries like Singapore, New Zealand and Australia (What? No Finland?), where externally-administered tests are less frequent (usually once or twice before high school, plus examinations at the end of high school to inform college and career decisions), but much deeper than in the U.S.
These open-ended exams, which feature essay questions and complex problems, often include project-based components completed during the school year and scored by teachers who are trained to ensure consistency. Rather than treating tests as black boxes to use as hammers for sanctions, these countries understand that assessments of, as, and for learning should be integrated into instruction and support better teaching. 
Good ideas, Linda. Good luck in getting any of them through this congress.


  1. While I admire L.D.H. her point of reference--like that of others in ed.--stops at NCLB.
    Rather, people need to point to Race to the Top (& I like the social media's definition of RT3: NCLB on steroids) as the ultimate Terminator of U.S. education/democracy as we have known it.
    Yes, she has "good ideas." And perhaps these are centrist enough to be embraced across the aisle. Then, however, we have to go much, much farther.
    Hope to see everyone at N.P.E.!

  2. Anonymous: I wish you would use your name. Calling you Anon seems so impersonal. How can we see you at N.P.E. if we don't know who you are. Beyond the easy labels, ie. "centrist", "terminator", etc... I would really like to hear your and others' particulars on what going "much, much farther" on testing means to you. Where do you agree, disagree with L.D.H. on testing and assessment?

    1. Sorry--I've tried to plug in a different name, but the system keeps telling me "you do not own that identity." (Has happened on other blogs, as well.) I would like to see testing used to determine a student's areas of strength & weaknesses (such as some tests utilized in the "good old days;" I've given the Terra Nova {although I hear it's gone bad, recently}, and it was an excellent test--especially for sp.ed. students--because students could write directly ON the test, & so many other test-taking skills (transference, hand-eye coordination, etc.) weren't as necessary, thus test of real skills (math & reading, for example) & informed and timely results occurred--information that could actually be used to help students. No more test prepping that is very nearly year round, nor testing that takes inordinate amounts of time. I very much agree with her first and last bullet points.
      And I meant what I said about Terminator--but not referring to L.D.H.--I was referring to the Obama/Duncan Race to the Top (which, as of late, Arne hasn't much been making reference to, while he talks about NCLB--you know, blame shifting.) Yes, the Bush people did, of course, bring us the punishing NCLB, but the Obama/Duncan Race to the Top has been the almost total demise of U.S. public education, thus deserving of the label "Terminator."


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.