March 23, 2002

School testing and value-added

School Testing: Here's a long WaPo story attacking the trend toward using standardized testing to rank elementary schools. It makes some good points, but, like most thinking on the subject, it misses the essential problem with the kind of testing Bush promotes: Schools should be evaluated on how much value they add to their students.

Today, though, schools are mostly ranked on the IQs that their students bring to schools, which in modern America are probably 50% or more genetically determined, and much of the rest of the variance in IQ appears related to random infections and the like, not schooling. It's unfair to the principle of, say, Malcolm X H.S. to downgrade him compared to the principle of Beverly Hills H.S., just because his kids do worse on tests. He could do be doing a great job relative to the raw materials he has to work with.

To make school comparison testing useful, every 6 year old in the U.S. should be given an IQ test - and by an independent tester, not the school. From then on, schools should be evaluated by their students' performance on achievement tests relative to their aptitude at age 6.

One reason we seldom hear this logically obvious idea of testing for value added is because colleges' reputations rest 90% on the high school SAT scores of their students. But that topic is largely off limits, because the media is run by people with fancy resumes who don't want the reputations of their colleges' besmirched by objective research into whether the college is actually any good at educating.

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