Education, Publicity, Reviews

Interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz on “The Testing Charade”

As a recent Washington Post article featuring an interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz notes, over the past decades the American public and its political officials have sought to reform the public educational system by holding teachers, educational methods, and education officials, accountable for the performance of their students. One increasingly common way to enforce this accountability is by holding the various constituents of our public educational system responsible for student performance on standardized tests. Beginning perhaps most visibly with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and again augmented under the Obama administration with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, standardized test scores have become the holy grail of educational achievement at the K-12 level and beyond.

But in his new book The Testing Charade Koretz puts forth a strong critique of the efficacy of high-stakes testing in evaluating the performance and utility of public education strategies and its practitioners. He illuminates among other problems, the extent to which test scores, taken out of context, miss the mark in demonstrating the value of less traditional educational programs, and the extent to which standardized tests lend themselves to manipulation, and in some cases, downright cheating. From the interview:

“Used appropriately, standardized tests are a valuable source of information, sometimes an irreplaceable one. …

But in our educational system, the use of tests has been anything but appropriate. Policymakers have ignored the fact that tests capture only some of what we want students to accomplish and even less of what we want schools to do. And they created perverse incentives that led educators to cut corners and inflate scores. Ironically, this made test scores less valuable than they would have been. Inflated scores don’t provide a trustworthy indicator of what students actually learn.

For well over 60 years, testing experts have warned educators that pressure to raise scores would cause score inflation and that test scores by themselves are not sufficient to evaluate schools. Over 40 years ago, in one of the most cited papers in the social sciences, Don Campbell repeated the warning about score inflation and the corruption of instruction. As I note in “Charade,” studies documenting bad test prep and score inflation in response to high-stakes testing started appearing almost 30 years ago, and the first study documenting more severe score inflation among disadvantaged students — and, hence, illusory improvements in achievement gaps — was published more than 15 years ago. And very consistent evidence of these problems continued to accumulate over the years.

So … why did people persist with this approach despite all of those warnings and all of the evidence? Just based on my own experience, I think it was for several reasons. Some policymakers simply didn’t know; most don’t read social science; and many had no experts on hand to warn them.”

Fortunately, with Koretz’s The Testing Charade now we do.

Continue reading the interview on the Washington Post website where they have also posted several excerpts from the book.

For more on Koretz and his critique of  American educational policy check out a video of a recent discussion between Koretz and Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Or see another interview with Koretz on a special video edition of the Harvard EdCast.