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Spellings on testing

Spellings100 As you digest all the FCAT results that came out this week, and look forward to more to come, the Gradebook presents for your contemplation some thoughts about the whole testing culture courtesy of our US Secretary of Education. Margaret Spellings spoke in Los Angeles late Thursday to an assorted gathering of education reporters, and focused on No Child Left Behind.

You say, Teaching to the test is bad. Spellings says - XXXX (if you don't get it, think Family Feud): "If and when standards are clear to educators, and assessments are aligned to those standards, which we spent a great deal of time and care seeing about through peer review processes and things like that at the federal level, then there's not a thing wrong with teaching to the test. If you say you want kids to know long division, and long division is what is on the test, then amen. Teach to the test. Testing of course has always been part of the educational enterprise since Socrates, and part of the teacher feedback mechanism. Teachers have fostered and foisted more tests on more people over history. So really there's nothing wrong with having a curriculum that is established around standards and measurements aligned there too."

How about more testing, college style? Spellings says: "Higher education for a long, long time in this country from the mid '60s to now basically has been a 'Put the money out and hope for the best' strategy. And in the mid '60s when you could make a pretty good living off the sweat of your brow, it maybe didn't mean so much. But our demands as the purveyors of innovation, which of course is rooted in the development of human capital, we simply have to get many many many more Americans in and out of our higher education system. About a third of Americans have a baccalaureate degree and about two-thirds of Americans ought to have a baccalaureate degree. If we look at disaggregated data of higher education in America, it is very, very discouraging. And we simply have to start talking about the issues, not only affordability, which we talk about a lot, accessibility, meaning do we have kids getting out of our high schools who can do college level work. But also about accountability and transparency about information of our higher education system."

Does that mean standardized tests, Ms. Spellings? "No. Absolutely not. But let me tell you what we are thinking about. ... This notion of what is it that our colleges and universities are adding with respect to  value. And what the President has asked for is a $25-million pilot program so we can experiment with that kind of notion. ... I'm sure you know I have a college sophomore daughter who is at a fairly expensive private college. After I spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on her education, is she going to know anything? Can she write? There are instances where people are looking at that right now."

Value added? "I think we would all agree .. with the principle that students who have completed a baccalaureate degree would have the basic ability to write, to think and to solve problems. Those are knowable values in modern psychometrics. Am I going to prescribe a one size fits all? No I am not. But I do want to invest with folks who are willing to pioneer on those fronts."

To hear some of Spellings' remarks to the Education Writers Association, click here.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:16am]


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