JC Bowman Commentary: The Trouble with Testing

Testing has taken a wrong turn in public education. I have always tried to keep it simple: testing is like your school picture; it is what you look like on that particular day. Kids go in to take a test. Teachers show up to make sure kids are taking their own test. Parents encourage their children to do their best. However, like Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and the Lone Ranger, those days are gone.

With an infusion of $501 million federal dollars of Race to the Top money we hurried to increase standards by adopting Common Core, which we corrected by moving back to state standards. We also increased testing, changing both format and frequency. Tennessee also adopted new evaluation methods. The teacher union supported the incorporation of TVAAS data into the state’s teacher evaluations, which landed Tennessee $501 million from the federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Professional Educators of Tennessee did not support the use of that data on teacher evaluations, nor did they sign a support letter on the original grant submission.

Not everything Tennessee tried was damaging, but it is not debatable that thus far the Age of Accountability has failed students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. Since 2012 Tennessee has had one misstep after another in testing. In 2013, our tests were not aligned to our standards. In 2014, the issue was transparency, notably quick scores and test score waivers for final semester grades were the major issue. In 2015, the new TNReady online tests had issues in the post equating formula. In 2016, we fired the vendor Measurement, Inc because after the online platform was botched and they were unable to get out a paper version of the test. In 2017, we were again plagued by issues due to scoring discrepancies. This year 2018, we have already had issues related to testing, including the belief by the testing vendor Questar that the Questar data center is under attack from an external source, although it is not believed at this time that any student data was compromised.

At no point since 2012 were any of the testing issues the fault of students or educators. However, for educators they are often the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state. To policymakers and stakeholders alike we must ask these questions:

  • Why are we relying so heavily on test scores to make important educational decisions about students, teachers or schools, especially when the process is flawed?
  • If the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, there should be no greater priority by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to identify and prosecute those individuals guilty of this activity and confirm that no student data was compromised.
  • Should we question the reliability, validity, and accuracy of testing in Tennessee since 2013? Especially when shifting between online to paper tests? Note: Reliability relates to the accuracy of their data. Reliability problems in education often arise when researchers overstate the importance of data drawn from too small or too restricted a sample. Validity refers to the essential truthfulness of a piece of data. By asserting validity, doe the data actually measure or reflect what is claimed?

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. We are not pointing fingers; just stating a fact. Clearly there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It isn’t our students or our educators. It is a flawed testing system.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.













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9 Thoughts to “JC Bowman Commentary: The Trouble with Testing”

  1. […] Educators of Tennessee raised the issue on Testing, with a hard-hitting editorial called the Trouble with Testing. Now the Superintendents of two low-performing districts, Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public […]

  2. […] Educators of Tennessee raised the issue on Testing, with a hard-hitting editorial called the Trouble with Testing. Now the Superintendents of two low performing districts, Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public […]

  3. Rebecca B.

    What thoughtful and accurate comments. Mr. Bowman, you hit the issue on the head. For years, teachers have known how to measure learning. They do it every day. They do small pre-tests before teaching a subject, they do formative testing while learning is in process, they do summative testing at the end of a unit to see what the kids understood. They use the comparison of these results to identify what they need to reteach or reinforce. For decades, teacher-led assessments, periodic and on many days, and low stress, delivered reliable results. It is time to put teaching AND testing back in the hands of teachers. Too many people who know little about learning are making these decisions for teachers. That’s backward. It’s time to admit that year-end standardized, or “high stakes” testing is not yielding valid results, the results are too late to correct teaching and too late to be used for the following year’s class assignments. This is a billion dollar industry treating us like fools.

  4. 83ragtop50

    Did not Mr. Gates also benefit financially by participating in selling equipment and/or materials for this disastrous endeavor? Please correct me if I am misinformed about this.

    1. Horatio Bunce

      Yes. Mandatory online tests mean mandatory computers with mandatory operating systems…windows based of course. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has poured hundreds of millions into TN and still are with their propaganda arm TNScore. Just do a search of their grant recipients on the foundation website.

  5. Horatio Bunce

    Who benefits? Well, the Race to the Trough also forced you to be a member of a multi-state testing consortium for your new federally-mandated online assessments. There were two options allowed by the federal government: PARCC or SBAC. Bill Haslam was board member of Washington DC corporation Achieve Inc (Phil Bredesen was former national co-chair), the project manager of PARCC. Candice Mcqueen’s predecessor Kevin Huffman was on the board of PARCC. Guess which option TN chose and awarded a no-bid contract for testing the 1M TN public school students at $30-40 per test? After this is exposed, none of the colluders suffer any consequences. So we call it a “re-bid” of a contract that was never bid the first time and of course your only other choice is SBAC, which is concealed through subcontractors AIR and Measurement Inc. Then we pay Utah $2.3M to rent test questions for 2 years. While we simultaneously pay Measurement Inc. to construct TN’s own test TNReady. The whole sales pitch by the Common Core Whores was this is state-led and we needed a way to compare achievement across state lines. How do you do that when every state has a different test?

    1. 83ragtop50

      Horatio – thank you for your explanation. I understood that this was just a money grab by some of the powerbrokers but did not have any details. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that Bill Gates (of Microsoft shame – his first commercial success was started with a lie) had a hand in the highest level of providing equipment or services – but I may be wrong.

      1. Bill Gates did in fact put his clout, influence and money behind the education initiative.

  6. 83ragtop50

    Mr. Bowman, Thank you for shining the spotlight on the damaging farce known as TNReady standardized testing. Tennessee blew it when the state officials blindly gabbed the $$$$ for the ill-conceived and ill-implemented Race to the Top. The cost of securing that money has proven to be way more costly than anything that money could provide. I worked for many years in commercial software development. I would have been fired the first time a system failure of the magnitude that the Tennessee testing process has endured – multiple times. What – if any – are the penalties that the vendor must pay the state for failure to comply with the contract to provide product and services? Who is benefitting from all of the money that Tennessee has thrown away on the sham of online testing? Goodness, this smacks at best of total incompetence at the state bureaucracy and at worse shady dealings. It is way past time to dump this poor excuse to evaluation.