Something is Rotten in the State of Testing

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

 To be, or not to be.  To test, or not to test, that is the question.

Make no mistake, the current debate about state testing may be framed in terms of the pandemic and the specific context of spring 2021, but it is a much larger battle that is being waged.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

State testing has been constantly buffeted from all sides while trying to strike a balance

between validity and reliability,
between constructs and Congress,
between Standards and laws,
between standardization and flexibility,
between measuring what is and measuring what should be,
between stakes that are too high and those that are too low,
between reporting results that can be supported and results that are desired.

It has faced FairTest and Fairness, lawsuits and empty suits, NCLB and RTTT.

It has watched a decade of reform be washed away in an instant by a band of wide-eyed high school activists supported by sniveling do-gooders.

It has seen perhaps its greatest attempt at national reform hijacked, politicized, and torn asunder.

Nevertheless, it persisted.

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end

But perhaps now is the time to call it a day, to stay in our corner when the bell rings and simply say, No Más.

Two decades of federal laws and regulations have conflated assessment and accountability to the point where state testing is no longer recognizable as a separate entity.

Now we face the field-defining challenge of confronting systemic racism within ourselves, within our work, and with our work.

Into that fire to forge an anti-racist future for state testing, we are sending a ragtag band of academics, technicians, and bureaucrats – a group able to agree on precious little even within the tightly constrained world of educational measurement, and one so low on the food chain they are subject to the whims of just about everyone.

It would be so easy to declare a 3-year, 5-year, or 14-year moratorium on state testing. [14 years, P-12, one academic generation]

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

Alas, what will unfold in a United States without state testing?

I would like to imagine a world without state tests as a world with all the teachers knowing what students know, and having the wisdom and wherewithal to act upon that knowledge; but I cannot yet dream that dream.

That was not the reality before state testing. What has changed that would make it the reality now?

Without the check of state testing, the unspoken question writ large is will the education system not simply seek the path of least resistance when it believes that so many critical factors are out of its control?

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

So we continue to endure fifty shades of grey while seeking the lone policymaker or testing company willing to see state testing issues in shades of gray in a world where every state testing decision and policy has become increasingly black-and-white.

Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Once again we stand at a crossroads, or inflection point if you prefer, in the life of state testing.

Standing in a similar place in 1990, 2000, and 2010, we acted boldly as a field – attempting enterprises of great pith and moment, although perhaps some might argue without enough attention to the pale cast of thought.

Yes, ultimately those enterprises went awry. Yes, we suffered the insolence of office and spurns.

Those efforts, however, were not without a measure of success. Is that not enough to give us the spirit to try again? The pieces are all in place.

We have the sense of urgency.
We have the technology.
We have the money.
We have the moral imperative.

So, let us once again be bold.

Let us set out to reform education and state testing along with it, render the carcass for usable parts, and begin again. Literally, begin again.

This is not the time to seek comfort within the confines of what’s allowed by ESSA or USED Regulations, to cower safely behind the skirts of the way things have always been done, or what we think the courts will understand.

This again is the time to act boldly as a field – and there’s no turning back this time.

To be or not to be.

My choice is to be.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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