We haven’t won. We’re testing all the time.

This is the fourth of ten questions presented as a Trans-Atlantic dialogue between myself and UK blogger Privatising Schools. A condensed version pulling together content of several responses for UK audiences can be read on the Local Schools Network website.

Privatising Schools: Question Four

Why are reformers questioning the tests?

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, the head of England’s school inspection agency, said last year that ‘there is more to a good education than league tables’. Students are being made to ‘jump through accountability hoops’; there is too much teaching to the test; schools have become ‘exam factories’, etc., etc. The Chief Inspector has even taken to lecturing her audiences about Campbell’s Law. Which is all very strange, given that the organisation she leads is, and has always been, a key driver of the system.

Does any of this seem familiar? I have a feeling that we’re following in the footsteps of the USA here, but that we’re a few paces behind.

My Response

Often the powers controlling the education reform agenda implement punitive measures intended to remain in place long enough to inflict discomfort, destabilize the system, and set the stage for their actual desired outcome. We experienced this under our national education legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which cemented the primacy of high-stakes standardized testing and remained in place between 2002 and 2015. This law caused grave harm, driving untold numbers of teachers out of the profession, galvanizing the test-preparation industry, and normalizing the idea that the education of human beings is something that demands massive amounts of data collection. NCLB imposed accountability, but that accountability was borne by those on the front lines in classrooms and never extended to the people in power who embraced austerity and policies that favored school “choice” at the expense of neighborhood schools.

Federal education legislation signed into law at the end of 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was lauded in some circles because it broadened accountability measures beyond the confines of reading and math scores. Now instead of measuring two subject areas, schools are expected to track graduation rates, proficiency for English language learners, student growth, and a fifth measure of school quality such as social-emotional learning, school climate, college or workforce preparedness, or parent engagement. This shift to “multiple measures” means the amount of data being tracked under ESSA has increased exponentially. There is also an emphasis on formative assessments, which has led to the implementation of off-the-shelf, data-driven benchmarking “solutions” like iReady. Some schools are even adopting rubrics for recess and play. Accountability has not lessened at all. The data-driven mentality now extends into every aspect of the educational experience. We are literally testing all the time.

Since public education is in the process of being remade as a profit center for social impact investment, policymakers can ill afford to stop the data collection game. Data is what fuels the machine. It appears they intend to avoid the corrupting influence of Campbell’s Law not by forsaking data collection but rather by measuring everything.

Part One: Talking Across the Pond Here

Part Two: Virtual Reality and Globalized Workforce Here

Part Three: “Personalized Learning” Driven By Data Here