First, I think everyone should read through Dr. Yong Zhao’s series called, “Ditch Testing.” A local superintendent, David Britten, today has a blog entry about the ACT and it’s college predictive value that is also worth checking out as it also adds fuel to the faulty standardized testing emphasis fire.

Standardized test scores have become the panacea to all perceived ills in public education. The emphasis on standardized test scores fails to recognize that we do not have standardized schools. We do not have standardized classrooms with standardized resources. We do not have standardized students. We do not have standardized parents, nor do we have standardized homes. So trying to compare teachers and schools largely based on standardized test scores is erroneous before it even becomes practice. A great teacher could transfer into a classroom of extreme poverty and, at best, likely look average and, at worst, look like a bad teacher . . . even if this teacher is doing his/her best work. Yet, that’s essentially where we are with the new tenure reform signed into law in Michigan. Test scores are far too valued. And this is not a hypothetical situation as this letter from Andrew Lindsay, a great teacher, explains. We’re turning even more to standardized test scores without the evidence that this is even a valid path to take.

A *good* principal can tell you who the best teachers and worst teachers are in a building far better than looking at average standardized test scores in a classroom. Many of the teachers in a school probably know who the best and worst teachers are as well. Unfortunately, we don’t have great principals or other administrators across the board to rely on any more than we have great teachers across the board. What we have are politicians who love a cheap and easy solution to hang their hats on . . . that’s test scores. Test scores are perceived as something that can be used to compare district to district, school to school, or even teacher to teacher. It’s relatively cheap and relatively easy to give a test. However, standardized tests are a solution to a problem that isn’t even as pervasive as we’re led to believe. Are there problems in public education? Sure. However, there are strong arguments that American schools are among the best schools in the world even though the media and politicians want you to believe otherwise. This flew under the radar when the latest PISA scores were announced, but everyone would do well to read about how poverty in the USA affects test scores and how controlling for the poverty variable demonstrates that American schools are the strongest in the world and perhaps not in need of *major* reform. Our schools are pretty great even if there is room for improvement. But politicians campaign on pretending that they’re placing an emphasis on education because they have standardized tests that teachers need to consider in their teaching. Under NCLB, test scores provided the ammunition to actually do more damage to the poorest schools for many years as lower test scores resulted in lower funding to the poorest schools, which we’ve know about for a long time now.

Politicians all feel like experts on education because they were all educated, presumably ;~). And, this long emphasis on standardized test scores demonstrates that politicians feel the need to steer how schools operate. Politicians haven’t lately made our schools better with their contributions. And, many of us realized a long time ago that their meddling has done damage to public schools in this country by going for easy solutions (i.e., a standardized test). The fact of the matter is that there aren’t easy solutions to improving schools.

I don’t pretend to have answers for improving public education in the USA. If the solution was easy then we’d be doing it . . . which is why we are doing what is easy in our perceived solutions. Easy is what politicians do. We could try and improve poverty and that would surely improve test scores if we wanted to stick with the test score model, which we already know to be flawed. My suggestion would be to reform administrator preparation programs to better ensure we have good principals and school leaders emerging from these programs. Many good administrator currently exist, but many more could be added to schools and districts and higher education preparation programs would be a great place to start this reform. I believe starting with good school leaders provides the foundation for schools and districts to hire and keep higher quality teachers. Good leaders will better recognize teachers who need corrective feedback and good leaders can help teachers make improvements . . . or, good leaders can dismiss teachers before they get tenure if these teachers aren’t responding to corrective feedback. Tenure reform wasn’t necessary because good administrators could always do what I’ve just described. And, the emphasis on standardized test scores certainly wasn’t the answer to this reform. We should have focused on improving the people who hire and keep poor teachers rather than starting with teacher tenure reform and leaving poor leaders in place (and let me again emphasize that many good school leaders currently exist). Once again, politicians are looking for an easy path and once again that easy out is relying on standardized testing. Standardized test scores have just gained even more power in our public schools. {sigh} When are we going to have politicians who look for good solutions instead of easy solutions when it comes to public education?

so, now that Obama is going to be president, what does that mean for those of us in educational technology? i had to search through many archives to find him address technology in the classroom and came across this:

“Without a workforce trained in math, science, and technology, and the other skills of the 21st century, our companies will innovate less, our economy will grow less, and our nation will be less competitive. If we want to out-compete the world tomorrow, we must out-educate the world today,” Obama said.

He added: “While technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives–from the way we travel, to the way we communicate, to the way we look after our health–one of the places where we’ve failed to seize its full potential is in the classroom.

“Imagine a future where our children are more motivated because they aren’t just learning on blackboards, but on new whiteboards with digital touch screens; where every student in a classroom has a laptop at [his or her] desk; where [students] don’t just do book reports but design PowerPoint presentations; where they don’t just write papers, but they build web sites; where research isn’t done just by taking a book out of the library, but by eMailing experts in the field; and where teachers are less a source of knowledge than a coach for how best to use it and obtain knowledge. By fostering innovation, we can help make sure every school in America is a school of the future.

“And that’s what we’re going to do when I’m president. We will help schools integrate technology into their curriculum, so we can make sure public school students are fluent in the digital language of the 21st-century economy. We’ll teach our students not only math and science, but teamwork and critical thinking and communication skills, because that’s how we’ll make sure they’re prepared for today’s workplace.”

this is encouraging. this was said back September. as we all know, much has happened since September and there are MANY priorities that supersede educational technology . . . as if it was ever a priority. sigh. but eventually the stimulus packages will pass, the various appointments will be made, and the Iraq war will be addressed. perhaps some of these campaign promises will come to fruition. we can hope, eh? i certainly hope that our national educational efforts begin to realize the importance of information literacy in today’s economy. we continue to focus our big attention on the core subjects like math and English and science, etc. as these are what the No Child Left Behind tests in various states are measuring. however, knowledge workers (including teachers) are often required to use skills beyond the core subjects. for example, a teacher might find effective supplementary lesson materials via an online search. having a teaching workforce that is information literate is crucial to even begin thinking about bringing our students up to a proficiency level that is adequate for the future. i’ll be keeping a close eye on the progression of educational technology efforts from Obama, congress, and the Department of Education. in the meantime, you can share your feedback , advice, and concerns here.