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Collaboratory member testifies: Time to fix broken system of testing, accountability

CTQ Collaboratory member Stephen Lazar testified before the U.S. Senate education committee today regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Lazar, a National Board Certified Teacher and cofounder at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, is featured in Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead Without Leaving (Jossey-Bass, 2013).

Lazar called for formalized inclusion of teachers' voices in fixing what he called 'a broken system of testing and accountability.'

He asserted, "The federal incentives in education are wrong. Too many schools are designed, in large part, to get students to do well on a one-time test. We need to reverse that hierarchy so that schools can organize themselves primarily to help students learn."

Praising the committee "for the work it has done to begin to get the incentives right," Lazar offered trenchant analysis of the current system of testing and its drawbacks. He steered clear of an anti-assessment stance, noting the importance of accountability, particularly for the success of students with the greatest needs.

Yet assessments, Lazar made clear, need to be designed in very different ways, with greater involvement from teachers and a better balance of federal and local decision-making. "School communities need flexibility and choice in the modes of assessment they choose for their students," he argued. Citing the New York Performance Standards Consortium as a model for the rest of the nation, Lazar explained that authentic performance assessments can provide teachers with much more useful information about what to do next to help all students succeed.

While standardized testing may be necessary, he noted, grade-span testing and representational sampling can tell us a great deal about how states, districts, and schools are performing. "To test every student, every year, simply for the stake of school accountability is the very definition of government waste."

Lazar's full testimony is available at the Shanker blog.