Better tests, higher price tags


I warned blog readers that I was taking some time off to visit Sicily and greet my first grandchild. Make that “a long time”, rendered even longer by some technological issues reconnecting with Deseret News. Call it summer break, okay?

I’ve spent the past few weeks working on a new AP Art History course, which I’m co-teaching with a classroom partner. We hope to combine the flexibility, accessibility and entertainment potential of online learning with the discipline and student tracking that a classroom teacher can provide. This “blended learning” approach worked well for me as an online essay instructor for AP history classes. It will be interesting to see how teaching goes when I’m creating much more online content.

Right now I’m reminded how fun I find working with a teaching partner, and how frustrating I find mastering the latest version of any new technology (in this case Moodle.) Sigh. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a paleo-teacher who wrote my master’s thesis on a typewriter and took the AP Calculus exam with a slide rule. I’m an incredibly unlikely candidate for cutting edge e-teaching . . . except that here I am. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m scrolling through a few hundred education articles that have accumulated in my emails and computer files. Many of these articles address the common core, which I know remains a hot topic in Utah and around the country.

Here’s an article that caught my eye, probably because it confirms my own greatest fear about the common core. An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that

Although Georgia has embraced the controversial set of education standards called Common Core, students here might never take the national test tied to those standards. That’s because the test — being created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of state education leaders — is so expensive that Georgia would have to spend more on the new test alone than it currently spends on its entire assessment budget of $25 million.

The price tag didn’t surprise me. While some of the AJC’s readers commented that testing firms would reap huge profits – and they may be right – it seems just as likely to me that more comprehensive and in-depth tests, especially tests that include essays, will simply cost more to administer and grade. The price tag for a single Advanced Placement exam rose to $89 this year, and while I’m sure that the College Board makes money on the tests I also know how long it takes to prepare and grade an exam that includes multiple essays.

So here’s my prediction. Many states will keep the common core but back away from the assessments. . . especially when constiuents starting seeing their kids’ scores decline. (You think students perform poorly on simple multiple choice tests: Try reading some student essays.) In other words, I predict, or at least fear, that states will jettison the most useful feature of the common core, which is comparability across states, without necessarily abandoning the stultifying standardization that has inflamed so many common core critics.

Meanwhile, the movement to boycott tests altogether will gain new support, this time from the budget-conscious.

My apologies to those of you who submitted comments or sent emails while I was taking a break. I look forward to hearing from you . . . again.




    • Mary McConnell

      My apologies. The test never employed a slide rule. We students certainly employed them in class, and I’m almost certain that we were allowed to use them while taking the test as well. I took the AP Calculus test in 1973, at North Central High School in Indianapolis. While it was a long time ago, I remember the slide rule quite vividly, because I was terrible with it. When my daughters were preparing for the AP Calculus exam they showed me some of the neat tricks graphing calculators could perform, and I was amazed, bemused, and a little jealous.

  1. howard beale

    I’ve missed you this summer and our discussions.

    It sounds like you are doing something that is common and Finland and something I believe would be transformative in education.

    Put two qualified teachers in a classroom (I suppose with a reasonable amount of students) working together to instruct the students. I feel this would be the best transformative reform we could do in education. But always the money issue…

    • Mary McConnell

      I’m not sure that two teachers in the classroom makes sense in many or even most situations. But I think there are many forms of team-teaching that do enhance learning. It seems to me, for example, that the “blended learning” model of combined online and classroom teaching often works better than either on its own.

      It’s hard to see how we could sell doubling the teaching workforce in these economic times . . . and I think the pressure on teacher salaries would increase exponentially if we tried. But again, I agree with you that many teaming approaches could work, especially if teachers worked with administrators to figure out a way to do this that didn’t require a huge budget increase. Sorry, I know you chafe at that caveat, and I have some sympathy. But I think the implementation issues now dogging the Common Core illuminate the dangers of embracing reforms without considering the short- and long-term costs.

  2. howard beale

    If the test doesn’t evaluate authentic learning, it is a waste of time for students and huge waste of resources. No bubble test, even a well-constructed bubble test, can evaluate authentic learning which includes creativity and critical analysis. Teachers need to be trusted to teach their curriculum and students need to be learning it, not taking two weeks of school in a lot of cases for to complete various (and horrible) tests.

    • Mary McConnell

      So do we ONLY use essay tests? Do we not use any form of standardized testing or at least universally graded test, and therefore give up on any kind of comparability?

      Yes, I know we’ve had this debate before, and will probably always disagree. But I really worry about creating an entirely subjective evaluation regime in which teachers – alone – determine what students should learn and whether they have learned it.

      On the other hand, I think some tests are much better or worse than others. My point was that good tests are likely to be more expensive, more time-consuming, and even more prone to arouse opposition.

  3. howard beale

    As I have said before, a student should have a portfolio that should follow them through their education. At the end they present what they have learned to a committee of teachers, counselors, administrators, parents etc. to validate their learning. They complete a senior project that blends differing subjects. This should be the model for graduation and proof of learning. It is sort of like defending your thesis. This is what I call authentic evaluation that goes with authentic learning.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.