Asking Politicians To Take Summative Math Tests Devalues Math Education

Diane Ravitch (and Kate Nowak and Ben Blum-Smith):

Insist that all policymakers, think tank gurus, academic experts, and politicians who believe so passionately in standardized tests do this: Take the tests in reading and mathematics and publish your scores.

I understand the cathartic appeal of the challenge but I don’t understand what these educators think the inevitable failure of a politician, age 54, to recall advanced algebra will prove. What is the implication?

  1. We should only teach students the material a politician can recall at age 54?
  2. We should only assess students on the material a politician can recall at age 54?

Math educators struggle with this kind of shoddy post-hoc analysis all the time, which is why I’m surprised to see it grip Nowak and Blum-Smith. Parents tell their kids, “I can’t graph a polynomial to save my life and I’m doing fine,” as if the deficits and disinterests of a grownup should have more than a thimbleful of bearing on curriculum decisions we make on behalf of students.

There are valid arguments that advanced algebra is overvalued or that our summative assessments don’t accurately measure the value of advanced algebra. Let’s invest our energy there and not in this sideshow, the only result of which will be a little catharsis for reformers and lots of parents telling their kids, “The governor of New York can’t graph a polynomial to save his life and he’s doing fine.”

2012 Jun 3. Kate Nowak posts a follow-up:

So if any of you [politicians] are listening: take a test and see how you do, and reflect on what that number says about you. Reflect on what influences that number for a variety of kids with varieties of challenges in their lives. Reflect on whether it makes sense to judge and compare schools and teachers based on that number. Reflect on how kids and teachers are spending their time in school if they are motivated by fear to maximize that number, and whether you think that is a healthy use of their time. Ask yourself if punishment is an appropriate response. And then talk start listening and talking to people who know how to do this better.

No objections.

Visit a public school. Follow a student around for a day. Hang out in the faculty lounge. Take the tests. Reflect on all of the above. You’re a representative. Understand the outcomes of your policies on the people you represent.

None of that requires you to post your scores for the derision and catharsis of frustrated educators, simultaneously sending the message that the only point of education is to prepare students to become bureaucrats.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. It’s a little bit primal. This test makes me angry in a way that makes me want to locate and hold up a giant mirror in front of the naked emperor. The NYS board of regents by way of these test tells kids they’re not good enough, and their teachers should be fired, over a test that tests all that is not important. I am spending 2 weeks preparing them for calculator procedures, nonstandard notation, and awkward wording. I don’t believe the politicians understand that this garbage is not important. I don’t believe they even know what is on there. If its so important for life/college/career success, any adult should have no problem passing it easily. Any adult won’t because its not an indicator of such, it’s a mean spirited mind fuck of a test. Hold me accountable all damn day for teaching kids what is important. This test does not accomplish that. It is the opposite of that.

  2. Jennifer Borgioli (@DataDiva)

    June 2, 2012 - 6:49 pm -

    Kate – I agree with what you’re saying about the quality of the test and feel sorrow that you have to help students’ bend their thinking in an unnatural way to meet the demands of one test, given on one day. That said, I agree with Dan. I don’t think having politicians take the test and publish their scores serves any meaningful purpose and I fear it makes our profession look petty.

    I’d rather have the politicians sit in a room with algebra teachers and be walked thoughtfully through the test and told what’s relevant and what’s meaningless. Let’s show them where the flaws are instead of hoping they discover them while taking the test. Let’s remind them, politely, that you’re the professional math educator, not them. Rather than using a fear of public humiliation to persuade them to reconsider high-stakes accountability, let’s help them understand the test and size of the gap between the test and what really matters in mathematics instruction.

  3. I think the idea is to put the politicians into the same position they put our students: High stakes tests that have a huge amount of random noise in their scoring.

    Ignoring this challenge makes it easy for politicians to ignore exactly how inaccurate these tests are, and therefore continue supporting the status quo.

    Unless, Dan, your argument is that current standardized tests are the epitome of evaluating student knowledge. In which case I’m surprised that your tests don’t mimic them more.

  4. Jennifer Borgioli (@DataDiva)

    June 2, 2012 - 7:10 pm -

    The problem though, Mr. K – is that they will never be in the same place as the students. It’s been 20 years since they’ve studied algebra, not 20 days or hours. They’ve had decades to unlearn, relearn, forget and remember foundations of algebra. The quality of knowledge in the now shouldn’t be devalued by how much of it we retain, need, or use later.

    Dan said: “There are valid arguments… these summative assessments don’t accurately measure the value of advanced algebra” and I agree – let’s fight that fight. I don’t see how this will be an effective leverage point.

  5. As I read the comments above, it seems to boil down to the perspectives of “if the tests are so important to politicians and pundits, they should be able to pass them too” vs. that of “we don’t want to offend, but wish to engage in thoughtful dialogue about why these tests are bad or meaningless or whatever”. These points of view are orthogonal, not in opposition. They both are attempting to make the same point: that standardized testing, in its current form and as it is currently being used, is inappropriate, unjustified by research, and flat wrong for a myriad of reasons. It’s just that one of the approaches is all hellfire and brimstone, and the other is hoping for reasonable dialogue with the other side.

    And here’s the crux of the matter, as I see it. The “politicos, take the tests” side won’t convince anyone about the value of mathematics and mathematics education, as Jennifer says – when the politicians and pundits fail, it’ll just make math ed look bad, not the politicians and pundits. But, the “let’s break bread with those who wish to break us” side won’t convince anyone either – negotiation is not an option. If anyone really believes that the people who are pushing this new testing regime are doing so because they think our students will be better educated mathematically as a result, they’re kidding themselves. The agenda of that group is entirely different. In this regard, I believe Diane Ravitch has it exactly correct, and I will suggest that everyone go off and read her blog forthwith.

    There must be a different way to make the case that there are real, serious, fundamental issues going on with public education, and particularly mathematics education – and it can neither be to humiliate politicians nor can it be to attempt to negotiate with those in power, for there can be no negotiation with a group that fundamentally does not recognize the value in what you do. The fetish that our policymakers currently have about standardized testing will only change when those with the real power – the voters – decide that the situation is unacceptable. We must make our case for why what we do is under threat, why that is bad (seems obvious, right? except it really isn’t), and what we teachers are doing to improve mathematics education, directly to the voters – the parents, retirees, young people, everyone. It’s not policymakers whose minds we need to change; it’s the public’s.

  6. > The problem though

    The problem is that the politicians and others implementing this policy are unwilling to even consider what might be on the test. Sure, the high road would be to go through the test item by item to explain why it’s so bad.

    Good luck turning that into a sound bite that will actually make it happen.

  7. Let me be clear. I don’t think any politician or NYSED appointee or Pearson lobbyist will take this test. I also don’t think there is any hope that the people currently in power will act in the best interests of our kids unless voters understand the reality of the situation and demand it. You don’t think that a sincere effort has been made by teachers all over the state FOR YEARS to work through channels and communicate our professional opinion? I don’t seriously expect them to take the tests. I want Joe Parent and Jane Voter to wonder why they refuse to.

  8. Line me up with Mike T and Kate Nowak. To assume that this is a real choice — adults taking tests vs. the same decision making adults sitting with teachers for hours to have something reasonably explained to them — is silly.

    The point everyone is trying to make is that the tests are not serving the purpose they should be serving. As to why that is so, I too will go with Diane Ravitch and the explanations of the lobbying power of testing companies and software companies etc.

    It’s ridiculous to argue about which of these two things that ARE NOT going to happen would be best.

    And in my state, I’d let them go all the way down to the 5th or 6th grade level and take the tests. I would certainly hope they’d be proficient, but I still think they’d be surprised at the awkwardness and the oddity of some of the concepts chosen for testing.

  9. Jennifer Borgioli (@DataDiva)

    June 2, 2012 - 8:10 pm -

    I can see the merits of take the test given your comments – however, I cannot get past the “publish the scores” part.

    I agree with Diane completely regarding purpose. For decades (or since at least 1999 when the latest version of the Testing Standards was published) “purpose” has been the driving force behind the validity of assessments. That said, how can we expect a group of non-educators to understand that the nuances of purpose if they’ve already gone blindly ahead and misused the tests despite all the professional experts cries not to?

    I also agree – it’s not going to happen. Not until we have a Secretary of Education who is better versed in the nuances. It would be a great thing for American education if Linda Darling-Hammond were named to replace Duncan.

  10. Today’s politicians need to feel the enormity of what NCLB’s testing policies have imposed on today’s students. NCLB is not just about that infamous “end of year test” but also the quarterly benchmark tests students must also take in all subjects. I see nothing wrong with imposing these same standards on those who instilled them on our students. I say test these politicians at the same frequency they expect children to test; quarterly and interrupted “before end of year” by a high stakes test. Then publish their results by state. Fair is fair!

  11. I agree that giving a test to show the test is inconsequential has consequences. But what if we gave a meaningful test, one that focuses on analytical and reasoning skills? Science Friday recently took up the issue . What skills from our discipline would we expect leaders to understand and apply -estimation, number sense, logic, regression – in order to do their jobs effectively, especially as those jobs affect ours?

    Would the results of that test send politicians running to their nearest algebra tutor? Would conversation that goes into creating a fair, consequential assessment carry over and raise the level of the exams we currently administer?

  12. Karen Thompson

    June 3, 2012 - 5:00 am -

    I’d be happy if they published their ACT or SAT scores. It would be wonderful to start discussing that there is more to learning than a test score.

  13. Jeremy Bell

    June 3, 2012 - 6:19 am -

    Sorry Kate I don’t see how this line of thinking will help anything. The way I see it is that there’s an endless amount of educational problems to be pissed about. You can seriously be furious until you die because the system is insane. But… the real life skill that you’re missing here in the noise is the opportunity to teach the students to have poise and some fortitude to get through unfair obstacles. If you teach them to get pissed off every time something unfair happens to them, then they are going to be in trouble in life way more than any math equation can help.

  14. Jim McClain

    June 3, 2012 - 6:46 am -

    A few years ago, my 7th-8th grade summer “jump start” program was being evaluated by both my building principal and the assistant. The administrators observed a game that I was playing with the students where they were using superhero figures on elevated blocks on a map of regular hexagons. I had them calculate the diagonal range from one of the elevated heroes to one of the villains on the ground by counting the measures of the legs of a right triangle, and mentally computing (using the Pythagorean Theorem) the length of the hypotenuse to the nearest whole inch.

    The administrators were impressed. They had not the first idea what the kids were doing or why, but it looked good to them. When I explained the complexity of the activity, they were doubly impressed. These were the men responsible for my evaluations every year.

    One of the points of having the people in charge take the tests is to at least show them what it is that we’re doing. If they had the first idea, they might have a stronger basis on which to evaluate the effects of the legislation that they are passing. They would at least respect the fact that we have some technical skill that they do not possess. I’ve been told too many times that I’m a glorified babysitter to trust that the general public is even aware of what math students do these days. And I’m afraid that includes legislators.

  15. If politicians took the standardized test would in not prove Ravitch’s point that it (tests) “should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed.”–And the purpose of assessment is to inform instruction.

    Diane’s point is all about the absurdity and misuse of standardized tests for accountability purposes (i.e. ranking schools, teachers, etc.) with one goal being to eventually privatize education. I see Ravitch’s comment as a way to inform the uninformed of the impending disaster that lies ahead–education will no longer be a collaborative endeavor but a competitive environment where the division between the haves and havenots will grow wider.

  16. I, too, would be happy to have politicians admit their SAT/ACT scores out loud. If they’re technically lawyers, lets hear their LSATs, too. If they want to judge us and our students by standardized test scores, they should be willing to let us judge them by standardized test scores, as well.

    Or maybe Pearson et al would be interested in writing a reading comprehension test specifically for politicians. Anyone who can’t read a (neutral, translated) passage on, say, the Dutch national health care system and correctly answer simple questions about whether Dutch seniors are afraid to go to the hospital should be disqualified from running for national office. ( They could take benchmark tests throughout the campaign process, with the results published before elections. Of course, since they never stop campaigning, they’d get to take a three-hour, no-you-can’t-check-your-cell-phone-or-go-to-the-bathroom test every four months or so until they lose an election.

  17. Now I get the point. This, here, has become a debate on whether the politicians can pass the test, rather than the absurdity of the test itself.

    Is there any way to refocus the national debate on that? Or will it always be side tracked to something else?

  18. Jen:

    Line me up with Mike T and Kate Nowak. To assume that this is a real choice – adults taking tests vs. the same decision making adults sitting with teachers for hours to have something reasonably explained to them – is silly. [..] It’s ridiculous to argue about which of these two things that ARE NOT going to happen would be best.

    Those are both absurd requests. You’ll get no disagreement from me. But only one of those requests simultaneously (and mistakenly) equates education with vocational education. Your average politician won’t be able to formulate and solve a proportion. That should have zero bearing on whether or not we teach proportions to students. The point of education isn’t to prepare every student to become a bureaucrat. But that’s one of the messages this challenge sends.

  19. Dan I think you’re missing the tactical point. Kate is explaining it very well in the comments so I don’t think I have much to add.

    My personal target would be NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, and I have a hunch that he would actually ace the regents, if he bothered to sit for them. The point is not to humiliate politicians.

    As Kate says, I think the odds are very low that major decisionmakers are actually going to take the tests. If by some miracle they do, and they also all do poorly, one possible conclusion people might draw would be that the tests are irrelevant to a successful life. The further conclusion that math is irrelevant to a successful life is not a natural consequence. The step from [the tests are irrelevant] to [math is irrelevant] can and should be interrogated.

    But all of this is a sidelight. The real story, to me anyway, is what Kate said about the mirror and the naked emperor. The US department of education, and many states and school districts (following suit), are piling more and more weight on a system of standardized tests that absolutely sucks. The linchpin of the entire “accountability structure” is these tests that do not and cannot measure anything that matters. I want the decisionmakers to know that firsthand; if they refuse to, I want them to have to answer for that. That is all.

  20. Ben:

    The linchpin of the entire “accountability structure” is these tests that do not and cannot measure anything that matters.

    Let’s put that on our list of assumptions that ought to be interrogated.


    I want the decisionmakers to know that firsthand; if they refuse to, I want them to have to answer for that. That is all.

    Nothing objectionable there. (See the addendum to this post.) To what end are we demanding they post their scores?

  21. Dan – I think the reason for publishing their scores is so that an honest conversation can take place. When Colorado first started state testing our then-Governor took one section of the math test, emerged and said “I think I did pretty well.” Yeah, all my students say the same thing. If taking the test is going to be worthwhile at all – and I’m not sure it is – it has to be public and transparent.

    And there are public servants who are willing to take the test. I think the point is not to embarrass them (although certainly there’s a little bit of that lurking), but for them to be able to have an informed conversation about the tests and how well they measure what our students have learned, what they should learn, and whether they should be the ultimate determiner of whether we have successfully educated those students.

    Yes, it would be great to have them come in and spend lots of time in our schools and have these deep discussions, but I think it’s much more likely – and consistent with the testing/accountability thinking – to have them take the tests and experience exactly what we are asking our students to do. And then ask them to multiply that by multiple tests each year and then duplicate that over ten or so years.

    As a teacher, I try to do just about everything I ask my students to do (write a blog post, write an “About Me”, take an Algebra exam, watch a video, submit a couple of homework problems on the Moodle, etc.). No, it’s not the same for me as it is for them, but it at least keeps me one step closer to remembering what it’s like to be them, and just a little bit more likely to figure out if I’ve assigned something that perhaps wasn’t so great.

    I think the hope is that if politicians (and other leaders – school board members, business leaders, school administrators, and teachers themselves) take the tests, they will be more likely to have a discussion about what we’re actually doing to/for our kids, and less likely to rely on ideological arguments.

  22. I’d much rather take my 8th grader L. who scored a D on his last test with me to a problem-solving contest than take J. who aced the same test. So, yes, most tests, including mine, suck because they don’t truly measure what the kid is capable of.

    My husband grew up in Syracuse, did very well on the Regents, but he knows damn well that he can’t pass it now to save his.

    I remind my students that they are a whole lot more than a single test score. “Do your best and don’t worry about it.”

    I was thrilled when my daughter did very well on her SAT. I was a little bummed when my son did not.

    I’m torn. I’m a hypocrite. Why are the tests so high-stakes? What are the college admission offices saying? Why is my local HS losing kids to the HS across town just because their API scores are higher (and the kids are whiter)? Why are they red-lining that district? How many parents shop for homes based on the neighborhood school’s test scores?

  23. (Sorry, my cut-and-paste lost last paragraph.)

    I really don’t care to know if so-and-so take took the test or if their scores got posted because I’m afraid it doesn’t change anything. Their hesitation to do so speaks volumes already. I care to know that the recipients of these scores value the kids beyond these numbers.

  24. Dan,

    While I take your point, let me suggest a few things of relevance.

    No one, least of all Diane Ravitch, has emphasized the mathematics sections. I’m fairly sure that the scores the pols would make on the English (grammar) sections, reading sections, and the science (which requires virtually no actual content knowledge of science) sections of the ACT would cause sufficient embarrassment for most state and many federal politicians that the point would be made. None of those sections reflects current learning, and anyone who serves in a state or federal elected position as representative or senator would have the slightest excuse for not knocking those sections out of the park because they’d been out of school too long and/or were rusty on factoring quadratic equations.

    The purposes of the exercise are several. First, to give the people who are routinely voting for various state or federal laws that mandate the use of such tests to determine a host of very serious things in public policy the experience of taking the tests. I’m fairly sure that few of them have a clue what’s in the ACT, which is THE high-stakes secondary test now in Michigan and quite a few other states. How can someone vote in good conscience for the use of these tests to determine major policies and outcomes for kids, schools, and especially teachers when they have little or knowledge of what’s on them and how “above-average” citizens (as we might loosely assume elected officials are supposed to be) fare on them?

    Second, there is as has been mentioned the Gotcha! factor. These arrogant, ignorant bastards are holding people’s feet to the fire and making a host of smug pronouncements about teacher, school, and student performance and quality based on tests they themselves likely would bomb on in many cases. And they have no compunctions about seeing the results of these tests published everywhere, with lovely media outlets holding up “New York City’s Worst Math Teacher,” and the like up to public shame and ridicule. Why is it a bad idea to hold up New York State’s dumbest senator on that same measurement platform?

    None of this says anything about mathematics in particular, and I truly believe it’s not just the math where these folks would embarrass themselves if there were justice in the world.

    Finally, a major reason to call for this sort of thing is to hold the tests themselves up to scrutiny. Let a few politicians get publicly humiliated and they’ll start asking themselves about test-quality and a host of psychometric issues (someone on their staffs will know that word) that currently are allowed to escape notice by anyone except those of us who know what we’re talking about when it comes to testing and measurement. Clearly, just trying to reason with these people at public hearings isn’t getting the job done. But put their reputations on the line and they’ll start paying attention.

  25. mr bombastic

    June 3, 2012 - 3:02 pm -

    Politicians vote on legislation they have not read all the time – they couldn’t read it all if they wanted to & they recognize that they lack expertice on many issues.

    Politicians also often find themselves being evaluated by voters who simply don’t understand the issues or the realities involved in passing legislation. They are evaluated (voted in or out) based on fringe issues that have little to do with the overall well fair of their constituents. They are not unlike us, teachers, in some ways.

    My disgust is more directed at school and district administrators that rarely offer any resistance to the data and testing mania we are experiencing. They brag when the scores go up, make excuses when they go down, and never a peep about how we might be placing too much importance on them.

  26. bombastic I share your frustration that administrators are not more willing to push back. However at least in our district, and I’d imagine many similar communities, there is no appetite for noncompliance with state mandates. Administrators take direction from the school board, and the school board consists of parents and community members, elected by the community. Which is why I think all voters need to be better informed, and teachers have a responsibility there.

  27. mr bombastic

    June 3, 2012 - 5:06 pm -

    @Kate, I don’t expect superintendents and principals to put their heads on the chopping block by refusing to acknowlege test results. Just make an effort to reduce the public and the school boards focus on the scores instead of exacerbating the problem by spot lighting the scores.

    As an aside, thanks for sharing your ideas on your blog – I really like the style of your lessons.

  28. One of the best classes I took in High School was computer programming – in BASIC.

    I can’t remember any of the commands. I can’t think of anything that is programmed in BASIC nowadays. But I learned logic.

    Some schools teach Latin – not because student will use it (or even remember it) at age 50. They learn it because it provides a greater depth of knowledge about words and word structures.

    I’m glad I learned stuff I can’t remember :).

  29. I strongly suspect that the “let’s break bread with these folks” approach will not work, and I do worry about the alternate “make them take the test” approach will not accomplish our goals – the general public will recognize vaguely that a politician’s ability to be effective is not going to be measured well by a standardized test intended for high school students. The one advantage will come if the politician’s refuse to take the tests.

    Can we brainstorm some alternatives to these two approaches? What are some ways in which we can highlight the horrible, wrong ways these tests are being used? Can we take the collective energy of the people who read Dan’s blog and come up with some viable strategies to oppose the use of these tests?

    Sitting on the fence isn’t an option anymore in my opinion.

  30. I actually think asking them to post their scores sort of makes sense. Not that they would ever do it, but it just seems like an idea politicians would go for. More and more it seems like the “accountability” trend is leaning toward scores for individual schools, classes, teachers. If we want a score for every individual teacher working at a school, why would we not want one for every one of our politicians? We can use that data to make better *choices*!

  31. Dan:

    The linchpin of the entire “accountability structure” is these tests that do not and cannot measure anything that matters.

    Let’s put that on our list of assumptions that ought to be interrogated.

    Actually it’s a considered opinion, not an assumption, but I take your point. For the present conversation, let’s strike the “and cannot.” I think the “do not” is pretty uncontroversial among educators, at least in my state.


    To what end are we demanding they post their scores?

    What I want them to know firsthand is not only the test but (maybe even more importantly) what the accountability pressure feels like.

  32. Let’s suppose one of the politicians takes the reading/writing part of the ACT. Why do we presume they will necessarily score low? What will be the effect if they score high?

    (On our more local level, some of our students think the high stakes tests are “easy” and that students who can’t pass must be slackers. I could see the same effect happening with a politician.)

  33. @Jason Dyer: do you really think a lot of state reps, assemblymen, and senators were high-achieving students? That they’re really good at doing critical reading and know grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc., well?

    I honestly don’t think it would be hard to find federal folks who wouldn’t do terribly well either. Given the number of people in the House of Representatives and some of the idiocy that comes out of their mouths on a regular basis, I’m confident that there are quite a few who would embarrass themselves if they had to take any part of one of these high-stakes tests that are supposed to measure general readiness for college. I’d have paid a lot to have had George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan take the SAT or ACT.

    Even in the US Senate, there are some folks I suspect are not very bright, though it’s clearly a more select body and only has 100 members. Nearly all US Senators are lawyers, I suspect, and so I’d expect a somewhat better than average verbal facility. Still, I worked on Wall Street as a proofreader with two very prestigious firms, and I know for certain that some pretty high-powered attorneys aren’t great at some of the things the ACT and SAT try to test in their “English” sections.

    Regardless, I think the exercise would be well-worth the risk. Of course some politicians would do well. It would be silly to suggest that none or few would. But again, let’s start at the state level and work up to the US Senate. I believe the results would be provocative.

  34. Great Debate by all. Here’s my two cents. The politicians are worried about money, period. They don’t care that there are 300 math standards for 8th graders to learn; plus the other 1000 they had to master before 8th grade, nor do they really care about how we teach them. They are interested in results.

    Whether they take the exams or not, it doesn’t matter. So what if a 50 year old politician can pass an Algebra 2 exam, most people couldn’t pass it 3 years after taking it. What matters is that we are getting our students to be better at mathematics.

    We that being said, at some point we need to put our data together and develop a math K-12curriculum based on Dan’s ideas, and other sources.

  35. mr. bombastic:
    “My disgust is more directed at school and district administrators that rarely offer any resistance to the data and testing mania we are experiencing. ”

    Please, let’s not conflate DATA on student achievement and effective teaching with state and federal systems of TEST-based accountability. There’s room in the middle of that Venn diagram, sure, but we’re not talking solar-eclipse style here.

    My question is this: How do we ensure that students, especially low-income students of color who have been the victims of generations of shafting by a racist infrastructure, receive rigorous instruction that prepares them for college and career? I don’t think it starts and ends with a test that takes a few hours for a few days, but should that be part of the system? How could it not?

  36. mr bombastic

    June 6, 2012 - 4:59 pm -

    I am highly skeptical of the majority of the data that I see on individual student achievement and teacher effectiveness, regardless of the source. As much as I would like them to be, my own grades are really not all that accurate of a reflection of what my students know and understand.

  37. Skepticism is fine.
    Agnosticism isn’t.

    Grades are always noisy data. But that’s okay, because the grade is about did-you-meet-expectations, not here’s-what-you-know. Denying that it’s possible to know the latter, however, feels like giving up. Or giving in. Or sliding down a slippery, slippery slope to the bad place.

  38. > the general public will recognize vaguely that a politician’s ability to be effective is not going to be measured well by a standardized test intended for high school students. The one advantage will come if the politician’s refuse to take the tests.

    Then we can get into a discussion of why they (politiciians AND voters) don’t need to know what they want all the kids to know, and the value of the test, and the value of the curriculum, and why it is why it’s not the teachers but the standards that fail the kids. Why they’re so hypocritical. Get the kids to ask their parents and adult relatives and politicians to take the test. This should be a national movement.

    Expecting them to sit down and listen to our concerns is naivety to the extreme. These people want to privatize the entire education sector with all these tests, and charter schools, and private school vouchers, and virtual classrooms, and Khan’s Academeys and Revolution K-12s and StudentFirsts. Unless we agree to unilateral disarm (disunionize and everything else) they’re not going to stop.

  39. Dan, I think that the assumption that (most) standardized tests do not measure anything that matters is pretty easy to interrogate, at least to a first approximation. Standardized test scores have been pretty constant since 1970. In the same period, college enrollment has more than doubled (it’s about 2.5 times higher, IIRC), GDP has tripled and the pace of scientific and technological advancement has increased exponentially (see Kurzweil for nice discussions on this topic). There are many possible explanations for the causal relationships here, but it should be clear that there is a big disconnect between results on standardized tests and other measures of “what matters.”

    As far as publishing the scores goes, we have to recognize that politicians really only care about two things: getting elected and not getting defeated in the next election. This isn’t to say that they don’t also care about other things, but these are clearly their two main concerns. If educators and parents aren’t bringing sufficient money (or “constituency”) to the table to have an impact, then they need another lever. Getting politicians to take the tests and publish their scores offers the ability to affect public opinion and mobilize voters against politicians, which brings a constituency to the table and offers the opportunity to affect positive change.