Around the Web: Testing and Thinking

Last week there were a couple of stories in the news about how standardized testing can dovetail with curriculum development. This week, the College Board announced that David Coleman will be its new president and CEO. Coleman co-founded the non-profit that helped develop the Common Core standards, and the move demonstrates the College Board’s focus on coordinating test development with curricular reform.

Meanwhile, from Florida, a cautionary tale: the state raised the standards for its public school exams, and saw passing rates plummet. It’s not a mistake to try to raise standards, but it must be done in the service of curricular needs. The Florida Department of Education acknowledges communication failures that meant districts and schools hadn’t fully prepared students for the new standards; the state’s testing culture also suffers from much more deeply rooted problems. A Central Florida Testing Board white paper finds not only that the state gives students far too many standardized tests (up to 62 a year), but that the Florida Department of Education uses the results for purposes different from, and much less pedagogically beneficial than, those stated in its documentation about testing (the testing has become so stressful that schools now have a “vomit plan”). Florida’s state tests were also in the news a couple of years ago, when Pearson had problems administering and scoring them. More recently, Pearson has announced plans to contract GED testing. Diane Ravitch is concerned about Pearson’s infiltration of public education in general, and Dean Dad points out that a more expensive, computer-based test will add even more barriers to achievement.

In the best of possible worlds, assessments bolster a curriculum that gives students a comprehensive understanding of the world and the skills to do something meaningful with their lives. A few stories about the relative merits and values of the quantitative and the qualitative provide food for thought about the big picture into which we’re fitting individual topics and disciplines. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Bartlett tallies up the score in the recent showdown between Jonah Lehrer’s storytelling and Christopher Chabris’s science. In Times Higher Education, Paul Manners reflects on the best ways to ask for and tell the story of your scholarship’s impact, touching on many of the same themes that surround the story of standardized testing—what are we measuring and how can we measure it more meaningfully? And, in The New Republic, Philip Kitchner makes the case for why “human inquiry needs a synthesis, in which history and anthropology and literature and art play their parts” alongside the hard sciences.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

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