A thoughtful response from the education writers at Third Way. We can’t make informed policy decisions about testing or anything else when we generalize and simplify in a format designed primarily to get ratings. Yes, there are important questions to ask about testing, and let’s ask those questions and have those conversations. One conversation starter might be whether Oliver thinks it’s a good idea to return to an era when students with disabilities, students of color and low-income students were mostly marginalized and not evaluated or tested because expectations for them were “shockingly low.”
“On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver spent nearly 20 minutes on a segment mocking the use of standardized testing in our K-12 schools. While the topic of testing is often an easy target of the media, John Oliver’s attempt to discredit the use of testing altogether was fraught with sensationalized misstatements and flat-out inaccuracies—providing his audience with a one-sided account that failed to mention any of the benefits or progress that has been made over the last decade precisely because of testing. Oliver made four overarching claims in the segment that ranged from wildly oversimplified to flat-out wrong:
Claim 1: There are too many high stakes tests.
Oliver argued that there are too many standardized tests and that tests are so high pressure that students are literally throwing up on them. It’s important to put some of these claims into perspective. Oliver is right that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) increased the number of federal tests from six to 17. However, he failed to disclose that those 17 tests are spread out throughout a child’s entire K-12 career. In fact, according to recent studies, the average child in the U.S. spends 1.6% to 1.7% of instructional time in standardized testing each year—not exactly a significant amount of time, by any stretch of the imagination. In addition, we know that over-testing is not the result of federal requirements, but rather states and districts that choose to pile on additional tests throughout the year. Even still, a bipartisan update of NCLB currently working its way through the Senate (something Oliver failed to mention) attempts to address these concerns by giving states the flexibility to break up their one high-stakes test at the end of the year into smaller bite-sized chunks that will lessen anxiety as well as the need to layer on other tests throughout the year.
Claim 2: The tests themselves are poorly constructed and don’t measure what we need to know.
Perhaps one of the biggest claims Oliver made is that the tests being given to students are so poorly designed that they are utterly useless. But what about the fact that most states have recently transitioned over to new tests that look quite different from the fill-in-the-bubble assessments of years past? He completely disregards this. In fact, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) that he specifically references in the segment was actually phased out of use last year. Now, Florida students take the Florida Standards Assessments, which according to the state’s Department of Education will “include more than multiple choice questions” and “assess students’ higher-order thinking skills.” A similar trend can be seen around the country, as 27 states are implementing new assessments aligned to college and career ready standards. And in many states, students will use computer-adaptive and competency-based assessments that test more than just rote memorization and rudimentary skills. Tests have come a long way, and they are getting better quickly—a fact John Oliver completely ignores.
Claim 3: The purpose of tests is to punish teachers and make companies rich.
Oliver also maintained that tests only serve two purposes: to punish teachers and make private testing companies rich. Only 3.5% of school districts across the U.S. even attempt to use a merit pay system, as the National Center on Performance Incentives found, so the idea that test scores and pay are linked is not true for the vast majority of teachers.
Continue reading at Third Way here