Alfie Kohn on APS cheating scandal: ‘What if we gave a test and nobody came?’

testing (Medium)I interviewed education advocate and writer Alfie Kohn a while back. You can read the 2011 interview here.

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

76 comments Add your comment


April 3rd, 2013
8:58 pm

Standardized testing is like anything else. Too much of a good thing is not good. The tests themselves are good. The excessive significance placed on them and excessive amount of time and excessive numbers of tests are the problem.


April 3rd, 2013
9:14 pm

Will blaming testing work as a defense for the 35 indicted cheaters?

Better question: Will there be some plea bargaining in exchange for testimony against the top brass (think Beverly Hall)?


April 3rd, 2013
9:23 pm

I’ve been thinking the 14 or so teachers out of the 35 (unless they intimidated or abused students) were probably indicted specifically for plea bargains against higher ups.

But blaming testing isn’t going to work. It will just get them a stiffer sentence.

Truth in Moderation

April 3rd, 2013
9:28 pm

It doesn’t matter. Kids can’t afford college, even with scholarships/Hope. There are no jobs for them when they graduate.. In Massachusetts, McDonalds is asking for a 4 year degree for a cashier job. To get Obamacare, you will have to fill out a 61 page online questionnaire that also asks you to register to vote. You will have $20-$40/hour “navigators” to help you do this. They will be from Planned Parenthood, Acorn, unions, AARP, etc. It’s over. We now live in a GULAG.

Dr. John Trotter

April 3rd, 2013
9:29 pm

When I grew up, we had your standard, non-pressurized Achievement Tests that gave the teachers some knowledge of where you were in a certain areas. The teachers usually already knew this. I dreaded these tests simply because they were boring. In elementary school, I must have just filled in the bubbles without even trying because the principal of my school called my father who was also a school administrator to inform him that I had tested as a “moron.” Ha!

The high stakes testing with the collective scores of the schools publicized for all to see came about in the mid-1980s after A Nation at Risk was published. Just about everything about public education has changed (for the worse, in my opinion) since then. The No Child Left Behind legislation was hellishly bad for the students and teachers and parents. Like Kohn has noted, the curriculum has become reduced to a very narrow focus, and real in-depth learning is as rare as wild boar running around The Hamptons. Teachers are now poked with hot irons, reducing them to doing stuff usually reserved for trunk monkeys.

In our first publication at MACE (which can be seen in the Archive section of our website) in 1995, one of the things that we railed against in the very first article was “standardized testing.” I have written many articles calling standardized tests “the false gods of public education.” Unfortunately, the educrats, corporate leaders, and politicians have ignorantly bowed down at the feet of these false gods and even still hang onto the every word of one of their chief prophetess, Michelle Rhee.

There are no excuses for cheating on these standardized exams, but the ubiquitous presence of these exams with the accompanying pressure should not exist to begin with. By the way, I am glad to see Kohn using one of my favorite phrases to describe modern day school administration, viz., “top-down, heavy-handed.” I too used that phrase in our first publication in 1995. This type of administrative conduct (or misconduct) has been in vogue for 30 years now. There is a whole generation of teachers who have never taught for a civil, supportive, and kind administrator. © JRAT, April 3, 2013.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
9:35 pm

Dr. John,
I didn’t mind the standardized tests. I was just a kid but I wanted to do my best and I had negligent and abusive parents. I am certain there were many kids like me who tried their best on the tests — and succeeded.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
9:37 pm

“…but the ubiquitous presence of these exams with the accompanying pressure should not exist to begin with…”
There are pressures with every profession, even a cashier at McDonald’s drive through feels pressure.
And let’s be very clear about the pressure on kids — it comes from the teachers, which should be enough to get a teacher fired.No teacher should pressure a child yet they do.

Dr. John Trotter

April 3rd, 2013
9:40 pm

@ P and J: I hated them. Very boring. I am sure that many of today’s scores are deflated simply because many unmotivated students just bubble in the answers like I did on those innocuous Achievemeht Tests.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
9:43 pm

“What if we gave a test and nobody came?”
I am sure that would make some teachers happy but good parents like me wouldn’t skip a test.
You have to understand — I WANT my kids to be tested.
I WANT to know how well they are doing comparedd to kids in their classroom, compared to other kids in their school, withing their district and compared to all children in the USA.
If I could make it happen, I would test every student in the world with the same test.
We good parents make the biggest purchases of our lives based on education. WHERE we buy our homes is dependant on the reputation and test scores of teh districts we consider living in and even where we accept a job depends on the reputation and test scores of the tests.
The SAT and ACT are standardized tests. So is the ASVAB. When a kids wants to get into college and get into the military, how well these kids do on these tests determine their very future.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
9:44 pm

Dr J — I am sure you want to believe that kids don’t care about the tests because it strengthens your argument that tests are not a good measurement of learning.
I ain’t buying what you’re selling.

Mr. Georgia

April 3rd, 2013
9:54 pm

Maureen, please consider most of the best and expensive, private schools do not take standardize test and their students score remarkabley well on The SAT and ACT, along with college entrance exams. We toutr these schools as the “best and finest education money can buy”, yet we, as a society are not honestly attempting to emulate their best practices. So think about it, you have the money to send your kid to a prestigeous private school you do not have to worry about a freaking CRCT!! How do I know? Two daughters who have graduated from private schools and we never heard or even mentioned the test and both were accepted to top notch private colleges, 1 has graduated and one is a sophomore. We really need to get real. When the banks and mortage companies were essentially cheating the American taxpayers out of billions of dollars not 1 executive went to jail or was implicated, so how is Dr. Hall responsible for 5% or less of the entire system that decided to cheat? What about the School Board, State Superindent and State School Board, are they not responsible as well? Again another attack on Black leadership and veiled attempt to further the ignorant nutwings who sole purpose to is to discredit and dismantle public education and turn it over to private corporations!! This is sad and will not work or be forgotten!!

Jen Falk

April 3rd, 2013
9:57 pm

My sister taught me one of the most important lessons in life. Everything in moderation. Even testing.


April 3rd, 2013
10:00 pm

The problem is not standardized testing,which has existed for
decades,but how people have responded to the results.
NCLB sanctions have not helped schools find long term
sustainable educational answers. It did provide the mechanism
to allow charter schools to increase their presence and offer
what policy makers called the competitive model. Public schools
have many challenges, but most public schools are doing a good
job. Many people complain about public schools,but rate our university
systems as being exceptional (Those universities are made up of mostly
public educated students who have managed to thrive through hard work
and dedicated teachers.).

Colonel Jack

April 3rd, 2013
10:03 pm

@Pride and Joy – Tests indeed are a good measurement of learning.

What’s happened, however, is that they have become THE measurement of learning, to the exclusion of everything else. One test, on one day (or one short period of days) in a 180-day school year, as the sole measurement of what has been learned? It is not valid mathematics. It does not compute. It’s A measurement – it shouldn’t be THE measurement.

And I can attest to the fact that as many as 50% of the children I gave tests to in middle school did not indeed care about the test. Why didn’t they? Because they had already figured out that, no matter what their marks were, they were going to be promoted to the next grade. Just as they knew that, no matter what they did or did not do in class, they were not going to fail. That wasn’t my idea – I can’t tell you how many times I almost lost my job arguing against that stupid policy – it was the system superintendent’s idea, and her word was law as far as we teachers were concerned.

The 50% or so who did care about the test were also going to be promoted, but they had earned it, and didn’t expect it to be handed to them with no effort on their part.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
10:14 pm

NCLB sanctions have not helped schools find long term
sustainable educational answers.
NCLB is completely optional.
If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it BUT…
you can’t take the federal hand-outs and ignore NCLB.
And you have to understand, many parents like me WANT NCLB because we want our schools to be accountable for the money they spend out of our pockets.


April 3rd, 2013
10:15 pm

Tests are how teachers regularly assess what a student has learned. To turn around and say tests don’t measure learning is the height of hypocrisy.

MACE is tiny & third-rate

April 3rd, 2013
10:16 pm

Wonder how many of our blog’s ardent test-bashers wouldn’t check a school’s most recent test results before sending their own kid there?

Or disregard their kid’s test results when the envelope’s brought home?


April 3rd, 2013
10:21 pm

There isn’t anything wrong in using standardized test as diagnostic tools, to help the teacher identify possible instructional plans for each student. We’ve evolved to an over reliance of the tests, influencing money most of all. Tying compensation and jobs to test scores is part of the reason for cheating scandals around the country.


April 3rd, 2013
10:25 pm

{{{yawn}}} Another educrat who decries the use of testing, but fails to offer any real solutions to the politically correct, social experimentation centers that public schools have devolved into.

In other words, “Pay no attention to that high school graduate using his fingers and toes to make change for your dollar.”

Quit graduating illiterates and maybe the pressure to test will back off a bit. Until then……

Colonel Jack

April 3rd, 2013
10:29 pm

@Lee – But we can’t quit graduating illiterates! The Powers-That-Be insist that all children be promoted so we don’t hurt their little feelings! As long as self-esteem is more important than actual learning, there will be illiterates graduating from our schools. THAT is the culture that has to change.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
10:41 pm

Extremely well said “Wonder how many of our blog’s ardent test-bashers wouldn’t check a school’s most recent test results before sending their own kid there?”
APS administration routinely live in a zone for a low-performing school yet transfer their kids to schools with high performance.
If it REALLy is the test and not the school, surely the administration, who decries testing is not a good measurement, would simply send their own children to the school to which they are zoned.

Pride and Joy

April 3rd, 2013
10:46 pm

Outstanding question “I want to throw out a question: Doesn’t testing help some kids?
Yes, absolutely.
I was one of those kids.
My negligent and abusive parents never talked to me about college. I had only a vague notion of it.
I took the ACT at the last minute because I heard some other kids talk about it. I never prepped for it — I didn’t even realize you should do that.
I earned a 27 on the ACT across the board. 27 exactly for all sections.
The “guidance counselor” stopped me in the hall one day and said I received a scholarship to a local college. That was it. I didn’t even know what a guidance counselor was for. I thought it was a euphamism for “secretary.”
I always knew I was smart but I never realized I was really bright and had a future until I took a standardized test.


April 3rd, 2013
10:50 pm

@Lee – Alfie Kohn has written several books on the topic of education (and a very provocative book on parenting, too). He suggests plenty of solutions in those books (although he may have a different idea of the nature of the problem than you).

Very happy to see Alfie Kohn’s work brought up on this blog. He isn’t just pontificating – this is a guy who has thoroughly looked at the research done on education.

Progressive Humanist

April 3rd, 2013
10:56 pm

Standardized tests can and do measure learning, without a doubt. If you assess a student prior to a certain class and then assess them on the course content at the end of that class using the same or similar measure, the difference in their scores between the first test and the last one is a strong indicator of what they’ve learned. There are certainly confounding variables that can invalidate the measure along the way (poor alignment between objectives and assessment, poor instruction, etc.), but if they are controlled for, then the outcome is valid. Simply put, learning is a change in academic knowledge or skills, and administering two tests will show how much change (learning) has occurred over that time.

Can tests be improved? Absolutely. Do they currently measure the most important information in the most effective format? Not necessarily, but standardized tests are far better designed today than they have ever been. They can and do assess higher order thinking and can very accurately assess skills such as reading comprehension, writing ability, mathematic ability, logical/spatial reasoning, as well as knowledge in fields such as history and science.

Are standardized tests overemphasized in education today? Probably. I don’t know anyone who would argue that they measure all forms of learning or all types of skills, even though they unquestionably measure the academic knowledge and skills that have historically been most valued in education.

But just because there is a correlation between socioeconomic level and test scores does not mean that is what they measure. Mr. Kohn needs a statistics course to refresh his understanding of correlation vs causation. And it’s a fallacy and a cop out to suggest that the students who do well on tests only do so because they are “good test takers” who have learned how to take tests while those who don’t are “poor test takers” without test taking skills. When you look beyond socioeconomic levels and test taking skills, there is usually an actual, substanital difference in knowledge and skills between those who perform well on standardized tests and those who don’t. Give credit to those students who have acquired greater knowledge and developed greater skills.

Do tests “help” students? They are not meant to. Does measuring your tomato plant help it grow? Maybe good test scores can boost some students’ confidence and build self efficacy in regard to academics, but that’s not their purpose. That would be a peripheral effect that can happen in any field in the same way that hitting a home run boosts a little leaguer’s confidence or making a big sale could bolster a salesman’s self image. It’s nice, but it’s not really the relevant issue. Tests are meant to measure learning, nothing more, nothing less.

I like Alfie Kohn as a writer, but we must remember that he’s really an essayist, disseminating his opinions on education. He’s not an empirical researcher, a psychologist, or a psychometrician. A masters of arts degree in social sciences does not really qualify him to answer the questions he’s pontificating on.

Testing and assessment are here to stay. The issue at this point is developing the best, most relevant assessments and finding the right balance in deciding how much testing is enough. Those who argue that testing should go away entirely are wasting everyone’s time. They should focus their efforts on improving how we measure learning in a way that might actually happen.

Disgusted retired educator

April 3rd, 2013
11:28 pm

You can’t blame the test for this madness. Educators cheated for fame, fortune, and glory.


April 3rd, 2013
11:43 pm

One can Thank Republican policies for this fiasco, No Child Left Behind as been not less than a total Failure.


April 3rd, 2013
11:46 pm


One can Thank Republican policies for this fiasco, No Child Left Behind has been nothing but a complete Failure.


April 3rd, 2013
11:46 pm

We’ve seen the long, multi-paragraph and repetitious add on posts from the enlightened lecturing us on testing. Then Disgusted retired educator summed it all up correctly in the two sentences above.

The Deal

April 3rd, 2013
11:57 pm

When certain standardized tests become the sole measuring stick for students, teachers, entire schools, area property values, entire cities, entire states, (can you see where I’m going) it has gone too far.

Classroom-level tests on the topics that have been taught are needed – pre and post teaching. The large-scale, multiple-day standardized testing should only happen once a year and should not drive the entire curriculum, as it does now.

When teachers of 25 years are begging to “just teach” instead of test prep, there is a problem.

When a child who works well daily, does homework faithfully and well, works hard in class, and then bombs the standardized test, what message does that send to the child? What if the teacher knows that child learned the material and just is not a good standardized test-taker (but does score well on essay-type, smaller scale tests), and that child cannot progress to the next grade? So instead of the scenario several have outlined, where a standardized test reveals hidden talent, what about those who are misjudged on that 4-day test? It goes both ways.

How many of you have even read the garbage that passes for standardized tests? As a graduate from a top 20 college, I find myself questioning so many of the “main idea” or “purpose of this passage” questions. Testing has become such a business that it is my feeling that the test creators are more about creating trick questions than questions that actually test anything meaningful.

Testing in and of itself is not bad, but the way it has evolved since NCLB is.

Progressive Humanist

April 4th, 2013
12:05 am

As usual, it’s the obtuse conservative who yearns for a simplistic, two-sentence sound bite as the solution to all the questions in the world, as if complex problems never require complex solutions and can “obviously” only be answered with a good colloquial cliche.

home-tutoring parent

April 4th, 2013
12:48 am

This blog is out of control. Out of control is good. My boys were judge to be math dummies in regular schools. With home-schooling, they went to the Ivy League and had a blast. They had to go up against kids with 1500+ SATs. “You can do this.”

home-tutoring parent

April 4th, 2013
12:56 am

Our boys could have gone to Phillips Exeter, but we wanted to keep them at home. If you don’t want to keep your kids at home, why don’t you love them?


April 4th, 2013
1:01 am

@ Pride and Joy
Would it be fair to say that you are stating prior to 2001,schools
were not held accountable for educating students?

How did the technological developments manage to
occur in the United States from the 1950’s-2001
without NCLB ?


April 4th, 2013
5:54 am

@P J
I know you love this whole testing thing and NCLB but let’s come back to reality. As a blogger mentioned earlier how did we get to the moon before testing? NCLB states that 100% of students must be at grade level reading and to graduate on time; does anyone here really believe that is possible? When has any business ever been able maintain 100%? Let me put it in the simplest terms I can: Let’s say you own your own business: you take out a small buisness loan insured by the governement. Next, you hire people to make your widgets; but low and behold 30% of those you hire do not do a good job. Some even smoke dope before coming to work, you find a couple of others making babies behind a shed, and some groups of workers dont like the other workers that wear a certain color shirt. During this time you discover you are losing money but the government comes in and tells you that you can not fire any of your workers.

Hopefully, I have explained enough and you see where this is going…

Pride and Joy

April 4th, 2013
6:02 am

I’lld address your thoughtful questions:
First “NCLB states that 100% of students must be at grade level reading and to graduate on time; does anyone here really believe that is possible?”
Yes, it is possible because the tests are ridiculoulsy easy and one is not required to get 100% of the answers correct — only a small portion of them.
And…to make AYP one only need to show reasonable progress toward that goal of getting children to score reasonable scores on a ridiculous easy test.
If you compared this test to a physical test it would be something like this:
In ten years we need every child to be able to run/walk a mile in under 30 minutes…or make reasonabe or make reasonable improvements toward that goal.
Most of the tests, like all standardized tests are reading comprehension. Read the teset and answer questions that are answered very plainly within the test.
So teach kids to read. That’s what you need to focus on.
When you learn to read you can learn anything else.
See next comment.

Pride and Joy

April 4th, 2013
6:10 am

Your next question “or to get kids to graduate on time.”
Why yes it is absolutely possible.
Everyone is capable of graduating with a basic high school degree.
What we need are better teachers. It literally sickens me to see so many teachers say they are not good at math. Reread these blogs and you will hear the confessions yourself. Not good at math? And you are a teacher?
Do you want a surgeon who is “not good at anatomy”? Is that acceptable to you?
To get kids to graduate on time, you need teachers who are good at math. Unfortunately, because of the new opportunities for women in the work place, smart, educated women are no longer becoming teachers and nurses. They have more opportunities now and men are not going into the teaching profession.
What we need to do is have a very high standard for education majors (rigorous math, math, math and science and perfect English)and swiftly identify and fire incompetent teachers.
When the teaching profession becomes a group of highly educated and highly competent individuals, respect for the profession will increase and attract to it both educated and qualified women AND men.
Most teachers have it backwards. They want the respect without the qualifications and competence.
Good comment.

Pride and Joy

April 4th, 2013
6:16 am

Good question: “How did the technological developments manage to occur in the United States from the 1950’s-2001
without NCLB ?
Quality teachers.
The quality of teachers has changed dramatically since the 1908s. In the 80s, women started to have far better options than teacher, nurse and secretary.
Those intelligent, educated women who would have gone into teaching have gone on to become CEO of Google, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Secretary of State; those women who used to be nurses are now doctors and surgeons. Women now outnumber men in medical school and in law school.
In short, there is a brain drain from our public schools. Those women who used to teach the math and science that created the space age are no longer in the classroom raising the next generation of scientists.
The classrooms are left with the (mostly, not all) low-hanging fruit.
It used to be that one received a degree in a subject area, not anymore. They created the “education” degree which is so easy to obtain it is not worth the paper it is printed on. See my earlier post for what we need to do to remedy the situation.

Pride and Joy

April 4th, 2013
6:24 am

To home tutoring parent–
I enjoy reading your posts about your successful situation and I am happy for you.
However, to do all that means you don’t have to work, right?
So, may I ask how you manage to afford all those nice things? (You’re living my dream life)
I assume you are either independently wealthy (trust fund) or your spouse has a very high paying career.
I would absolutely love to home school my pride and my joy but…I have to work. I don’t choose to work, I have to work, which means I am up at 6:24 working for my clients and blogging while my children are asleep.
Just wondering…

mountain man

April 4th, 2013
6:32 am

Let us understand about testing: testing became necessary when it became clear that teachers’ grades (probably forced or actually changed by weak-livered ADMINISTRATORS) did not reflect true learning. When students were graduating with a diploma and could not read and write. THAT is what set off the testing binge. If teachers’ grades were like they were in the sixties, when no administrator would DARE ask a teacher to change a grade, then we would not need testing to determine the etent of learning.

mountain man

April 4th, 2013
6:37 am

You can blame policies such as “no zeroes” and “no scores below 50″ for the testing craze, also. Failure is failure, no matter what “policies” make it sound like.

mountain man

April 4th, 2013
6:44 am

And Bootney, I think it was you that said administrators don’t defend themselves on here because we would chew them up and spit them out. You are correct; the only admitted one I know is Georgia Coach, and he will never answer my question about how many students he has sociallly promoted (who failed the CRCT yet were promoted to the next grade). There is only a VAST SILENCE when I ask these questions.

Dr. John Trotter

April 4th, 2013
7:17 am

@ P & J: I have never stated one time that these standardized tests do not measure some knowledge, but what I have contended from the jump street that these standardized tests have become the curricula in all of the schools throughout the country and that teachers are forced to simply “teach the test” or “teach to the test.” Tests should simply measure what is going on…like when you take your car to the shop to ask a mechanic to test something. A test should simply give someone some insight.

I have advocated unswervingly that real authority should be given to the teacher to evaluate a student’s progress in many ways. Teachers should be given the authority to demand, for example, that the students completely memorize the multiplication table so that they won’t have to count on their fingers and toes. This authority has effectively been taken away from the educators today. Hardly anyone can actually demand that such knowledge be mastered with the threat that if it isn’t mastered, then retention will be the consequence.

The standardized tests have run amok in public education. We will look back on these days of the terrorizing tests and wince with embarrassment. People will ask, “This was supposed to be education?” It is an outrage. Young minds should be nurtured and stimulated to be inquisitive. Children should be taught the joy of learning. Instead, they are frightened to death over a bunch of stupid tests which yield billions of dollars for the likes of Pearson. It’s the Educational Curriculum Complex which is driving the testing mania. There are literally billions of dollars at stake. © JRAT, April 4, 2013.

Pride and Joy

April 4th, 2013
7:23 am

To Dr. J Regarding ““teach the test” or “teach to the test.”
Consider this, teachers teach to the test…and the kids still fail it.
Obviously, something is wrong with the teaching.
These tests are ridiculously easy to pass, John. There is a huge amount of reading comprehension Q&As on these tests.
Today, teachers rarely teach phonics. Everything is “sight words.” Just put a word on a flash card and memorize it. That’s how “reading” is taught today in APS.
No one learns to read like that. I had to teach my kids to read because all the teacher at APS wanted to do was have kids MEMORIZE words.
It’s not the test, John. It’s the teaching.

Mountain Man

April 4th, 2013
7:40 am

So why do colleges require te SAT or ACT (standardized) tests? Why not just strictly go with the Grade Point Average. After all, we know that teachers ONLY give grades that are truly indicative of the mastery of the material. And we CERTAINLY know that NO administrator would EVER change a grade or force a teacher to change a grade – right, Georgia Coach? Colleges don’t need the SAT or ACT (or do they?)

Ed Johnson

April 4th, 2013
7:47 am

Alfie Kohn’s lecture at the GSU School of Music back in 2002 was sponsored, in part, by the Atlanta Area Deming Study Group (or, The Deming Society, as some called us). I was the group’s president, at the time. Studying Kohn was an aspect of our programming to expose educators to W. Edwards Deming’s teachings.

We specifically reached out to the APS school board and top administration to come hear Kohn speak. None of them did. The only person in any way associated with APS that was there was former APS Superintendent Alonzo Crim.

At the time of Kohn’s GSU lecture, the work of the APS school board’s Charter Review Commission was near to wrapping up their work. Senate Resolution 608 had charged the school board’s Charter Review Commission with proposing revisions to the APS Charter to accord with the wishes of Beverly Hall and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. (There’s an audio recording out there that features Beverly Hall bragging about how she went to the Legislature to get it done.)

I cover the confluence of these two matters and the horrible consequences that would come to APS here…

It is one thing to be the first to report what happened and talk about that. It is entirely a different matter to know what will likely happen and understand why.

The AJC, for example, does great by the former. Kohn, like Deming and similar others, do great by the latter. And the more our attention goes to the former, the less our attention goes to the latter.

Consequently, the more we suffer things like the ultra-extreme APS test cheating without understanding why it happened from the perspective of root causes.

John Konop

April 4th, 2013
7:55 am

In business we have saying how you pay people drives behavior…….many times companies that have have dysfunctional problems……one key problem is people are paid not in the best interest of the business…….

This is the same issue with NCLB…….it drives dysfunctional behavior…….

Testing should be based on aptitude and an exceptable level of knowledge…. If not than one could argue the profesional educational system is broken across the world, and people should be dying in the streets going to doctors, building should be falling a part……..the standards for professionals is an exceptable level of knowledge based on their core subject. We do not make a lawyer take the CPA test, an accountant does not take the bar test……….

This one size fit all high stakes test concept is irrational! .Unless we fix this problem we are just kidding ourselves……

We should be focused on outcomes not a mean test score:

1) graduation rate with job skills
2) graduation rate with entry into higher education

Unless the system is geared around the above outcome based on aptitude, we will see the same results……

Looking for the truth

April 4th, 2013
8:45 am

Testing, like prescription meds, have a purpose. However, both are subjected to misuse.

I do not object to testing. Some sort of assessment is needed to see if students have mastered what the state mandates they master. However, I do object to tests being the only measure. Regretfully, we’ve become a society that wants to get the quick, easy information and rejects the work component of research necessary to determine if students are ready for promotion. If the numbers say it, it must be true! Never mind that kids pass tests with flying colors and still can’t make change withouth using their fingers and toes.

Dr. John Trotter

April 4th, 2013
9:01 am

@ P & J:

You do what I said the other day that most people do, viz., you start with the false premise that students aren’t learning because teachers aren’t teaching.

Teachers are teaching what they are told to teach. They are mandated to teach “sight words,” etc. I know that phonics should be taught. I have advocated this also for over 30 years. Students have to be able to break down words. Yes, there are exceptional words that cannot be broken down phonetically. But, overall, kids who are taught phonics learn to read and spell much more effectively than those who are taught the whole language approach and sight words. But, P & J, this isn’t the fault of the teachers. It’s the damnable stuff that the educrats and college professors are pushing down their throats. They are forced to teach this with the threat of termination if they don’t.

You really need to understand the political/environmental condition of the school systems before just engaging in the simplistic and wrong-headed reaction that if the students aren’t learning, then it’s because the teachers aren’t teaching. And you haven’t even seen me get wound up on motivation and aptitude! I have always said that 80% of all students can master (yes, master) 80% of all material handed to them in public schools. Some can’t master it. Many (not just some) don’t want to master any of it. Motivation to learn is the key to so much.


April 4th, 2013
9:07 am

NCLB was a compromise between Ds & Rs — its was as much Kennedy’s bill as Bush’s — it’s failure belongs to both parties — education really belongs out of Washington an back in the states. I don’t think we should not test at all — it’s important for the kids to learn how to test (I think if I could test better I would have been able to go to an Ivy instead of a near-Ivy…) — but this incessant testing is everything is out of control and represents victory for the testing companies and for no one else. We are spending lots of money we don’t have to feed the testing industry and not to help the kids. I firmly believe that if you really wanted to help the kids, we would chose a “norm based test” (e.g. the IOWA or the Stanford) and use it from the year-to-year, and only it, to track progress and to guide the teachers in assessment and development (and not necessarily to judge the teacher — except maybe in judging whether the teacher is making “progress” with a child. I return to the example of my now senior — he read at a 5th grade level in 1st grade. Based on the CRCT, when his 1st grade teacher didn’t progress him from 5th grade at the start of the year to the end of the year — that was a “fail” but it showed as a “success” because the CRCT showed “exceeds” — yet the same kid who couldn’t read at all who was then reading at level who tested on level was “met” — but that would have been extraordinary (like my oldest) and the one one who began the year reading at level and ended at level and tested at level and also tested at level would have been ignored (another fail showing at met) and the one who started at level and tested below level due to a bad day would show as a fail….. you see what I’m trying to show. If we look at progress from year to year based on a “normed” standardized test — one test – same company — year to year — once a year — then the incentive is to grow each child from the point that each of them are at to where ever they can each be taken…. That to me makes sense. the current system only benefits the massive testing industry and we can ill afford it on so many levels and the APS indictments just begin to pain the picture of how out of control and wrong it can go — there are more “unintended consequences” to follow — such as what exactly will be the long-term consequences on the kids who were actually harmed by the fact that they never learned to read or to do basic math? What will they be like in society as adults and how will society later pay”

Dr. John Trotter

April 4th, 2013
9:08 am

@ Mountain Man: I have always said that the SAT and the ACT will finally determine the “aptitude” of the students applying for college. Meantime, let’s engage them in real learning, not just test-taking. Also, the Hope Scholarship is responsible for mammoth grade inflation. But, this is a subject for another day!