February 8, 2011

The Testing-Media-Industrial Complex

It seems weird that we live in a boom time for testing, but we do. The science of testing was mostly perfected in the middle of the 20th Century and not much has changed since then. It would seem like it ought to be a sleepy business. Moreover, very few people defend testing in public. 

Yet the media climate keeps pressing the vast education system toward policies requiring ever more new and improved tests and test prep materials.

Commenter gb at The American Scene says:
New York State’s entire “Race to the Top” grant will be used to pay for assessment tools, and the testing companies are in it for the money in a way that teachers certainly aren’t. Kaplan, which owns the Washington Post Company, owns the very lucrative contract to provide test prep materials for the New York City schools, and Joel Klein, great champion of testing, has just moved from the Chancellor of the city schools to the News Corporation, where he will work in educational publishing. In many ways, assessment is a mechanism whereby federal, state, and city education dollars get moved to large media conglomerates—meanwhile arts education and foreign language instruction get cut.
When you stop to think about we really have the perfect intellectual climate for well-placed firms to make money off testing: when your tests don't give the right results (perfect equality), then your writers demand both more tests and new tests. And nobody is allowed to point out in your pages that it's all pretty futile. It's a perpetual motion money-making machine.


8 comments:

Michael said...

You can pretty much guarantee when a liberal project has a lofty, progressive name- Head Start! Great Leap Forward! Race to the Top! It will be a huge money pit and a colossal failure.

Half Sigma said...

" The science of testing was mostly perfected in the middle of the 20th Century and not much has changed since then."

Not true. There's been a HUGE change since the: Item Response Theory.

Anonymous said...

Let's just save a ton of money and revive craniometry. All we'll need is a kit consisting of a caliper and an accompanying instruction manual. The results might be just as useful as whatever these government funded geeks might come up with.

Maguro said...

In the military, this type of thing is called a self-licking ice cream cone.

MIchael Chernoff said...

Had a programmer friend in Austin who worked on developing educational testing software for the State of Texas and beyond.

GW's brother happened to be a high-level exec in the company.

You get these kinds of coincidences when money is funneled through government spending.

Henry Canaday said...

Let’s see, media companies that pump the paranoia about racial gaps in test scores, while owning firms that do tests and test preparation to analyze and remedy gaps? Another one of those "always fatal alliances between the justifying Puritan and the determined rogue” that Fielding spotted in “Tom Jones.”

josh said...

"When you stop to think about we really have the perfect intellectual climate for well-placed firms to make money off testing: when your tests don't give the right results (perfect equality), then your writers demand both more tests and new tests. And nobody is allowed to point out in your pages that it's all pretty futile. It's a perpetual motion money-making machine. "

Ding!

Steve, I can give you a very tiny scoop. The NYC testing readjustment is about to go nationwide.

I teach at a 95+% NAM school, I won't say where. For the past 3 years I have been stunned by the pass rates on our equivalent of the regents exam. In 6 testing windows (we are on a semester system) my department had passing rates as high as 99% and no lower than 93%. And these were students who thought Europe was one of the countries that fought the American Civil War. This year our pass rate dropped to 50%.

I should add that we don't allow students to even take the state exam until they pass the "Mastery Test" with a 60% or higher (only 50% is required to pass the state test). The mastery test is the last released state exam, so their should be a pretty tight correlation between the two tests. So, out of the 75 students who scored 60% or higher on the 2007 test, only 37 scored 50% or higher on the 2011 test. Only one student scored higher on this years test.

I don't get to see the test, but one of the proctors description of some of the questions screams "g-loaded". Now, this may be a good thing or a bad thing, but the reason for it seems clear. Power over testing has gone, in the past few years, from local authorities who had an incentive to minimize the gap, to national elites who want to maximize it. To give you an idea of what this means, my own school (after new tests are released for all subjects) will lose accreditation. "Experts" from nationally recognized consulting firms will come in to make sure we are adequately serving the needs of our students. Even more understanding, perhaps another school social worker, even less discipline (we are already forbidden from punishing tardiness, allowing absences to effect grades, and assigning homework), teachers like me leaving. Etc. etc.

Anyway, it is a rigged game to put education more into the hands of the national association of experts. I'd say more, but I don't anybody is all that interested.

Aaron said...

All very well, but testing certainly hasn't been "perfected" or anywhere near that.

IQ tests are laughably inadequate, for instance, and serve only as the very roughest and most approximate of measures of anything. They almost only have value - and even then limited - in huge samples when they can predict a few things, but far from all things related to intelligence.

Yet everyone pretends as if they are the very last word on intelligence, we know everything about intelligence because we can call it "g", and there is no more to learn.