The APS cheating scandal was in the news at the time, and Kohn told me:
The real cheating scandal that has been going on for years is that kids are being cheated out of meaningful learning by focusing on test scores. Standardized tests like the CRCT measure what matters least. The more you know about education, the less likely you would ever be to measure teachers, schools or kids based on test scores.
I wondered what Kohn, author of “The Case Against Standardized Testing” and other books, thought about the indictments Friday of former APS school chief Beverly Hall and 34 others.
I asked him a few questions for an editorial I am writing for the print AJC.
Here are his answers in full:
Standardized tests are lousy measures of thinking. They assess some combination of (a) family wealth and (b) how much time has been diverted from real learning in order to make kids better at taking tests. Many smart kids, terrific teachers, and exciting schools have lousy test scores. Many not-so-smart kids, mediocre teachers, and awful schools have impressive test scores.
The two key take-aways from this latest scandal are: (1) the problem here wasn’t just the illegal and immoral behavior of a few individuals, but an absurd system of top-down, heavy-handed, test-based “accountability” — which is why cheating scandals have been popping up all over the country for as long as we’ve had high-stakes testing; and (2) even if the Hall administration had raised the scores without cheating, Atlanta schoolchildren were still cheated out of a real education because the schools were turned into glorified test-prep centers.
Rising test scores are usually bad news. The people who understand the most about how kids learn know that. Politicians and corporate executives typically don’t. That’s why they persist with policies that make no sense, such as basing evaluations of teachers on these same bad tests.
Parents who have had enough should not be satisfied with seeing Beverly Hall carted off to jail. They should think hard about whether they want to continue supporting the whole misguided testing mania by allowing their children to take the tests. Across the country, parents are “opting out.” If enough people do that, officials may one day gulp, “What if we gave a test and nobody came?”
As we discuss Kohn’s comments, I want to throw out a question: Doesn’t testing help some kids?
Growing up in a neighborhood with many first-generation Americans, I can recall friends who only began thinking of college after a teacher pointed out how well they scored on a standardized test. I’ve interviewed kids who were buoyed by strong test results. These were kids whose parents did not have the wherewithal to know that their child’s math ability was not just good but extraordinary.
A national testing expert told me that he would have ended up on an assembly line rather than in a Ph.D program if it weren’t for a high school counselor who told him how high he scored on placement tests.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog