Testing's 'collateral damage'
by John Young
It shouldnĂ˘€™t take a Ph.D like David Berliner to
tell us whatĂ˘€™s wrong with the way we do
accountability in schools. He sees parallels in
baseball, too, and heĂ˘€™s no Joe Dimaggio.
Sporting analogy: When you put too much
emphasis on home runs, he points out, people
strike out more.
When you put too much emphasis on anything at
the exclusion of other things, players adjust
in ways that make them one- dimensional.
Berliner isnĂ˘€™t an expert on baseball. A
regentsĂ˘€™ professor at Arizona State University,
he is an expert on education. With University
of Texas-San Antonio professor Sharon Nichols
heĂ˘€™s authored Collateral Damage: How High-
Stakes Testing Corrupts American Education.
Berliner spoke at Baylor University last week,
his theme being how high-stakes testing makes
America less competitive.
Ă˘€śAny time you invest a lot of value in an
outcome measure you get a corruption of the
measure,Ă˘€ť said Berliner, in a true
Texas being a proving ground for high-stakes
testing and the federal No Child Left Behind
law, itĂ˘€™s notable that its schools have become
poster children for Ă˘€śgaming the system to lie,Ă˘€ť
This includes not just outright cheating, but
any number of maneuvers to make sure low-
achievers arenĂ˘€™t tested.
Beyond that is the problem of Ă˘€śnarrowing the
curriculumĂ˘€ť to meet the task of passing a test
on core subjects.
In Texas and across the country weĂ˘€™ve seen
schools with low math scores become slaves to
computation at the exclusion of everything
Ă˘€śIf you are going to gauge a school based on a
test, then youĂ˘€™re going to prepare kids for the
test,Ă˘€ť he said. Yeah, we need a Ph.D. to tell
us this. Even Berliner sees the absurdity
Ă˘€śWhat you get is really boring curriculum
heavily favoring reading and math, and a drop
in [emphasis of] almost everything elseĂ˘€ť Ă˘€”
recess, math, music, arts, social studies,
Berliner said this problem is most pronounced
in inner-city schools with more than their
share of poverty cases, and with low-low test
scores. For many students in those situations,
education is drained of its Technicolor in
favor of dry work sheets and test-based drills.
Once again, it shouldnĂ˘€™t take a Ph.D. to tell
us this, but:
Ă˘€śAnyone who looks at the future of the American
workforce knows it needs to be more adaptable
than it is today. WeĂ˘€™re developing a curriculum
thatĂ˘€™s very narrow, a one-size-fits all
Ă˘€śInstead, we need a broad approach, one thatĂ˘€™s
wide so we have lots people who can adjust
quickly when [economic] shifts happen.Ă˘€ť
Success demands that schools emphasize such
traits as creativity, collaboration and
problem-solving, he said.
Cancer of boredom
Back to BerlinerĂ˘€™s warning about a too-boring
curriculum. Some traditionalists would consider
that a weak complaint of the Ă˘€śtouchy-feelyĂ˘€ť
crowd that doesnĂ˘€™t want to crack the whip.
Well, Berliner cites a study in which 47
percent of those who dropped out cited boredom
as the reason. It wasnĂ˘€™t that they couldnĂ˘€™t do
the work. It was that they didnĂ˘€™t see any
I know that the martial-law crowd canĂ˘€™t
understand this, but: You know, schools ought
to give children a reason to want to learn Ă˘€”
other than passing a test.
It doesnĂ˘€™t take a graduate degree to see that
we need to stop examining our measuring cups
and examine what weĂ˘€™re putting in them. One
idea would be to treat teachers as educators
and not as vessels.
What you emphasize youĂ˘€™ll get, or at least
lunging efforts at it. In the age of test-
driven Ă˘€śaccountability,Ă˘€ť we are getting
training and conditioning, but not education.
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