Diane Ravitch: “I Do Not Disapprove of Tests, Just the Misuse of Them”
I recently sat in the audience for a live taping of KLRU’s Overheard with Evan Smith to watch an interview with education activist and reformer, Diane Ravitch. Ravitch has consistently entered the public sphere to engage in education debates, lately in criticism of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. A former assistant Secretary of Education and early proponent of the reauthorization of ESEA as No Child Left Behind, Ravitch was “for it before she was against it.” Ravitch is provocative. She is a controversial figure in a policy area already rife with controversy.
A true historian, Ravitch was thorough in her responses and thoughtful in her approach. Although Smith asked about everything from unions to charter schools, I found the discussion of high stakes accountability systems, and especially assessment practices, the most thought provoking. Ravitch argued for the use of tests as diagnostic tools, not solely as measures of accountability. Tests, she stressed, should be used to “help kids and inform instruction,” not as a “death sentence” for students, teachers, and schools.
In fact, psychometricians agree that standardized tests are designed to assess a snapshot of data; they aren’t capable of being truly comprehensive, and so, Ravitch has stressed, they are not suited for the grave task of determining whether or not a student or school is failing. Instead, tests might serve most useful in helping teachers target student needs, ensuring that no skill is left behind, leaving more time for authentic learning, and less focus on test-taking strategies.
Educators: What do you think the purpose of tests are exactly? What do you think the purpose should be? Leave your suggestions in the comment section.
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