Looking Beyond What Works "Just Fine"

Yesterday in Dan Koretz's educational testing course we were talking about test scales: how they're set, what scales do and don't mean, and the misinterpretations often drawn from them. As an example we were looking at the SAT and GRE scales and in passing Dr. Koretz made a comment about the kinds of scores those of us in the class likely earned to be sitting there. I thought about my own scores and general experiences with the SAT and GRE and standardized tests in general, and a reading from another course, Building a Democratic School, came to mind.

In the introduction to her book, The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test, Linda Nathan describes leading a tour of Boston Arts Academy for leaders from another school. One of the members of the tour talks about resistance to developing small learning communities at their school:
"'They just aren't convinced that small makes a difference in high school. And to be honest, neither are some of us. I went to a big high school and it was just fine.'
To me, this teacher had hit on the essence of what makes changing schools so difficult. Most teachers become teachers because they did well in school. The system worked for them: it worked 'just fine.' How can teachers truly grapple with different approaches than those they experienced as a student?"
This thinking could easily be expanded to include current and aspiring policymakers dealing with education today. It's difficult to get in a position of authority without at some point having success with standardized tests. It's fair to assume that those of us at Harvard, in state and local education departments, and leading organizations like TNTP and TFA have generally done quite well on these tests.

To what extent does this contribute to a blind faith in testing-based accountability? It's often very easy to project your own experiences as common and it's difficult to see the flaws in a system that served you just fine. Finding a way to set aside these experiences and assumptions is vital then to figuring out a system that serves everyone well.


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