Monday, November 1, 2010

Failing to Read the Tea Leaves...Again

Fifty years ago, ASCD's May 1960 issue of Educational Leadership was devoted to looking "forward" to 1985 and discussing some of the changes and potential problems in K-12 education.

Curtis Paul Ramsey contributed an article titled, Testing in Tomorrow's School (p. 503, Vol. 17, No. 8.) in which he foresees the inherent dangers of high stakes standardized testing:

"As testing programs assume a larger role in the curricular structure, and as decisions of increasing importance are made with reference to class and school achievement test results, many teachers and administrators find themselves giving way to the pressures induced by indiscriminate testing.  When the unsophisticated person places so much emphasis on a single score, the groundwork is laid for an erosion of ethics related to test administration, scoring, reporting, and to the teaching experience which precedes a testing session.  Because of the undue stress some administrators have placed on meeting or exceeding test norms, some teachers have begun to teach material specifically related to test items they anticipate will be given to their students.

"...manipulating an academic environment before a testing session does not provide reliable information about general scholastic achievement.

"Should these pressures continue to increase, due to national testing programs..., a sub rosa (author's emphasis) national curriculum will have been established by test publishers.  Abnormal emphases on a single test score can produce such unwanted and unsought results within individual classrooms of our nation's schools (emphasis added)."



While Ramsey's article was primarily focused on national testing programs for college admissions and was written many years before most state K-12 assessment programs were developed, it was visionary in pointing out precisely what our system of education has become: test-prep institutes vying for the golden apple that results from arbitrarily-defined success on a single test score.

It also serves as another reminder that we too often fail to heed the warnings.