When anyone can guess to a passing grade, standardized tests don’t measure real learning

Diana Senechal’s guest column at the consistently brilliant Gothamschools.org put my jaw on the table. She passed New York State’s sixth grade ELA and seventh grade math tests just by filling in A, B, C, D on a loop! After checking her work against the answer key and score calculator, she got a 2! On the fifth grade test, she discovered that she could fill in C for every answer— and pass!

This would be a disconcerting revelation at any time, but Senechal’s essay comes on the heels of new Obama administration directives to states to use test scores as a key determinant in teacher effectiveness, as The New York Times reports. The message: if you want access to the desperately needed billions in stimulus funds, make test scores a centerpiece of school life. This is disheartening, given President Obama’s articulate critiques of the shortcomings of the punitive, test-crazy culture of No Child Left Behind.

Testmania is not exclusive to Bush and Bloomberg. Barack Obama seems to have bought in.

This year, my charter school is adopting an Essential Schools-style “exhibition” performance-based assessment model in which, throughout the year, students create portfolios of accumulated evidence of learning. At the midpoint and end of the year, they present their portfolios in what’s called a “presentation of learning.” The portfolios and their accompanying presentations are strong instruments of accountability because the students will have to show their stuff to their peers, teachers, family members, and members of the community.

This kind of authentic assessment is so much more supportive and illustrative than a corporate-made bubble test. If President Obama and Secretary Duncan are so bent on expanding charter schools, why not jump on one of their finest ideas? The bureaucratic craving for easy data via basic skills multiple-choice tests is dangerous and counterproductive, and as Diana Senechal is the latest to reveal, a farce.