Deemphasizing standardized testing

For years I have ben an advocate for using standardized tests as the prime way to evaluate the quality of K-12 schools and to hold them accountable. No more!

The appeal of standardized tests was that they moved us away from measuring schools base on inputs (funding per pupil, student to teacher ratios, etc.) to measuring student outcomes. Student outcomes are the right way to measure school performance.

The second reason was the belief that standardized tests were predictive of future success. Largely based on the evidence of the predictive value of the SAT and ACT. That turned out to be wrong.

The evidence is now clear that standardized test scores are a lousy predictor of the outcome we all claim we want: college and career success. GPA is far more predictive of college success. (See the book Crossing The Finish Line.) And employers hire for attributes like the 4Cs (critical thinking; collaboration; communication; and creativity) not what is on the tests. (See this previous post.)

To be clear my reason for wanting to deemphasize standardized tests is not to lower standards. In fact it is the opposite. I strongly believe the bar for student achievement in Michigan is too low. We need to hold school management accountable for more rigorous and broader student outcomes. To do that requires better assessments. The reality is that the non content specific skills that make up the 4Cs are higher order skills than what is measured by today’s standardized tests.

Getting the assessments right matters a lot because not only are we not holding schools accountable for what matters most in college and career success, but by measuring a way too narrow set of skills, we are driving out of non affluent schools what matters most. Including:

  • Right brain skills (See the book A Whole New Mind)
  • College writing (the ability to communicate thinking in writing)
  • Arts and music
  • Non cognitive skill development (See the books How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed)
  • The 4Cs/deeper learning
  • “Rock climbing”skills (See this previous post)
  • Extracurriculars  (See the book Our Kids)
  • College matching

If we are serious about college and 40 year career success (not a first job) we had better get what we are holding schools accountable for right. What we need to come up with is an assessment system that actually predicts college and career success. if not we are harming both our kids and employers.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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