Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Fresh Ideas by Lorie Schaefer: Spending less on schools, but more on tests

Teachers lose their jobs, class-sizes soar and school years shrink, but there still is plenty of money for tests.

By Lorie Schaefer

Here in Nevada and around the country, school budgets are being cut to the bone. Believe me, teachers know how to wring the value out of every nickel and dime they are paid, every classroom dollar they are allowed to spend. They also understand shared sacrifice. Nonetheless, while we ask teachers to do more with less, some big education businesses are getting rich. Very rich.

Pearson Publishing ΓΆ€” one of the top publishers of education tests ΓΆ€” had a 28 percent rise in profits in 2010. Furthermore, between 2002 and 2009 ΓΆ€” when many Americans lost jobs and homes ΓΆ€” Pearson's revenues grew from $293 million $1.64 billion.

Not good with big numbers?

That's an increase of more than five and one half times.

Likewise, Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino says she expects continued growth to "more than offset pressure on U.S. states' school budgets." In other words, teachers lose their jobs, class-sizes soar and school years shrink, but there still is plenty of money for tests.


Nevertheless, it is public school teachers whose professionalism and motives are besmirched by lawmakers, the media and the public. Not only are teachers told how and when to teach specific skills, but also how to assess them. Those same teachers are held responsible for student progress. It's like blaming soldiers for losing a war.

Yet, in spite of the fact that U.S. children spend weeks every year bubbling answers on very expensive tests, they continue to lag behind students in the top-scoring nations. Funny thing is that top-scoring nations like Finland and Korea eliminated much of their standardized testing decades ago in favor of one formal test in 12th grade. Other high-scoring countries (Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK) include essay exams, science investigations and research papers, evaluated by (gasp!) their teachers. Some data suggests that fewer standardized tests track with improved scores on international measures. Other research shows that teacher-determined grades are more accurate, because they are based on multiple measures over time.

But, you say, teachers can't be trusted to be objective. I submit that standardized tests aren't all that objective either. Someone designed and wrote the test. Someone else decided which items to include and what score would indicate proficiency. Every person in the process is allowed to exercise his subjective, professional judgment. Everyone, that is, except the teacher, the only one held accountable for the results.

In our pursuit of excellence, we have put our faith in the test, not in the teacher. In the interest of data-driven, research-based decisions, perhaps we should look at the tests themselves. If tests aren't giving us the results we want, maybe they should be the ones defending their value, rather than teachers.

Lorie Schaefer is a retired teacher. She recommends http://www.susanohanian.org for more information on the dark side of so-called education reform.

Nevada Appeal





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.