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Bridge’s Academic State Champs emphasizes all the wrong measurements

Bridge’s “Academic State Champs” school ranking is an ambitious but misleading effort. This type of reporting feeds the myth of failing schools from the 1983 study, “A Nation At Risk,” and its consequence, standardized testing and the demand for more accountability. Federal law reinforced accountability mania with the impossible-to-achieve 100 percent proficient requirement. Statistics have been tortured ever since.

The data Bridge relied upon are the product of assumptions, “expert” opinions, and repeated statistical refinement. Worse yet, rankings were assigned to schools whose student cohorts recently arrived from other districts, common at charter schools. Their scores were actually the product of a different system than the one being ranked. How was Bridge to know? Context is important!

Data derived from an infrequent event imposed upon an infinitely diverse context produces an empty data point. The context embracing the test score has far more influence on outcomes than short-term content memorization, the singular attribute assessed on these tests. This mythical power of a number is perpetuated by a belief dating from the time of Pythagoras that a numerical value can be assigned to everything. It’s assumed learning can be identified by assigning a test score derived in a contextual desert.

Learning is not an objective process that can be measured as a thing and assigned a number.
Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley advised, “Sustainable educational change is not an overarching set of bureaucratic policies and interventions that shift from one government to the next, that subject educators to repetitive change syndrome and that undermine the basic trust and confidence that support their relationships with students. Data can enhance and inform these relationships but cannot replace the value of teachers working closely and effectively with students and colleagues, students learning from and supporting each other, and all of them engaging with parents and communities around purposes they develop and deliberate on together.”

Parents deserve an authentic assessment of how their children are doing. Children should not be compared with imperfect tools to other children. “Authentic assessments are those tests which are used to see if students can apply the knowledge they have learned in a real-world setting.” Authentic assessments “examine student performance on worthy intellectual tasks,” whereas traditional assessments simply require the ability to recall knowledge.”

Authentic assessment is usually designed by the teacher to gauge students' understanding of material. Examples of these measurements are open-ended questions, written compositions, oral presentations, projects, experiments, and portfolios of student work. Standardized tests cannot be used to gauge understanding, their focus being a narrow review of content without substance.

Assessments should provide teachers with the necessary information to improve their instruction in an attempt to address the needs of all of the students in their classroom, not as a method to reward and punish, rank and rate, sort schools into categories or identify “Academic State Champs.”

The latter outcome acts to deny teachers the opportunity to teach and children to learn. Bridge, as many other media have done, trusted a defective measure for their reporting.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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