Blow Up Standardized Testing, Please. #EdTech #k12 #Education

Really.  There is an inferno of activity in the EdTech sector right now.  Many teams are attempting to use technology to address problems that have existed since the beginning of compulsory schooling.  A few of these teams are onto something.  Witness the use of online video to free up class time for more interactive student and teacher engagement. No one, to my knowledge, however, is directly addressing the issue that standardized testing.. how more delicately to put this.. sucks.

Most states block out one of forty instructional weeks every year to have students bubble-in answers to mostly knowledge-based questions, thereby showing what students have not learned.  In California, there is a tacit understanding that these tests tell us very little.  They are there to meet the requirements of federal law. This is evidenced by the fact that there is no diploma, award, or any incentive at all tied to the outcome of these exams for students.

Enter large standardized testing solutions providers.  These four giants were the only game in town when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was introduced in 2001.  They possess dated infrastructure that they have scaled and applied to huge government contracts that they satisfy with a reporting system that is both inadequate in scope and glacial in pace.  Local education agencies in most states are cut out of the process in all aspects, save administration.  One notable exception is how the New York Regents testing system uses neighboring school teachers to assess written student work before it is norm referenced.

Standardized testing is a great idea, and the attention that NCLB brought to the inequities in public education has sparked healthy debate.  Nonetheless, If there were one problem that I would like to see the bright minds of our tech centers address, it is this.

Allow me to paint a Utopian vision.  I can imagine tests that rely largely upon writing, drawing, speaking, and portfolio submissions of work that students have had time to revise in collaboration with their peers and with the guidance of their teachers.  I can imagine this because this is how the International Baccalaureate (IB) assesses student learning.  While IB assessments are at the college level of challenge, there is no reason that the same principles can’t be applied to all levels of challenge.

Problem is that maintaining the logistics of operation and reporting to keep current an IB site license can cost a school more than $80k per year.  This does not even include the cost of the exams for the students, which are comparable to AP exams, about $80 per test. AP tests, created and scored by the College Board, require no site license and are similar to some aspects of IB assessment, but AP tests are far less authentic than their equivalent IB counterparts.

If we have technology that turns the spoken word into typed text, recognizes faces, performs statistical analysis on huge public data sets, and now – if the rumors on the Stanford campus are true – scores written responses to essay prompts with 99% accuracy, surely there must be a way to break the lock that the dinosaurs have on the testing and reporting industry.

If ever there were a time for this paradigm shift, it is now.  44 states have signed on to adopt the Common Core national standards in coming years.  Each of these states will have to reconfigure how they do their standardized testing and reporting.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is about to expire (NCLB is the current incarnation) and is likely to be modified around the Common Core.  The opportunity is ripe for a team of technical wizards and seasoned educators to blow up the testing and reporting industry.

There are already enough teams working on learning in the box math for the k-8 market; trust me. Take on something seriously game-changing.  I know about 3 million people who would each give you a dollar to get you started on this far bigger problem.  You come up with the plan, and I’ll help run your fundraising campaign. Who’s in?!

About Jack West

Consultant, writer, analyst, teacher, coach, maker.

2 Responses

  1. Who’s in? I am ALL in!

    Jack, once again you have hit the nail square on the head. As a seasoned classroom teacher every year I am both infuriated and exhausted by the efforts we make in addressing the STAR here in California. However, the CA Dept. of Education says, “Students take tests in math, reading, writing, science, and history. Teachers and parents can use test results to improve student learning.”

    Gosh, I might need to reconsider my previous statement. It sure is a good thing these tests are designed to improve student learning! Is the the CA Dept. of Edu. for real?

    I am with you, blow the dang thing up!!! Viva edtech!

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