His latest opinion piece, published in the Denver Post, is about PARCC testing, one of the two consortia vying for big money in Common Core testing. He's against such testing. He's right when he claims that the Common Core standards are not internationally benchmarked (as California's now-former math standards were), but he's kind of taken the express bus to Crazytown when he claims that standardized tests "increase gaps and reinforce inequity." No, they really don't; they diagnose problems and help point out where gaps exist. And while it seems obvious that of course some schools (and teachers) are better than others, I lean more towards "it's the community/culture" when explaining so-called inequity than I do the "institutionalized racism" explanation. Mazenko's nod to the extreme Diane Ravitch doesn't help his case in my eyes.
I've written before about how flawed the Smarter Balanced math test, the one we'll use in California, is, and Mazenko has similar concerns about the PARCC English test. He's right to suggest that Colorado ought not to use that test, at least until it's "better" or until Colorado creates a better one of his own, but I can't help but think that's merely an excuse not to have any standardized testing at all, at least temporarily.
Why do I say that? Mazenko started off with a dig on President Bush, saying it was he who kicked off the "standardized testing craze"--which "Lion of the Senate" wrote NCLB?--but completely ignores President Obama's role in Common Core acceptance via Race To The Top, etc. You have to take that kind of bias into consideration when evaluating the merits and conclusions of this article.
For a smart guy, Mazenko makes use of one of the weakest, most flawed anti-testing arguments:
Test scores should be detached from teacher evaluations, not because teachers shouldn't be held accountable for performance, but for the same reason that your dentist isn't accountable for your cavities, your doctor isn't blamed for your high blood pressure, and your trainer shouldn't lose his job when you put on pounds over the holidays.Your dentist identifies your cavities. Your doctor diagnoses your high blood pressure. Your trainer shows what you should to in order to be fit. In each of those cases, it's up to you to take their advice. A teacher, however, doesn't just identify or diagnose, a teacher's job is to teach. And while you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, part of our job as teachers is to motivate and inspire our students to drink that water; we can't just say "we taught but they didn't learn" and expect that to excuse overall poor student performance. Mazenko's analogy to the trainer might not be too far off--if the trainer doesn't motivate you, you fire him/her--but the doctor and dentist comparisons are so flawed that intelligent and educated people should flee from them as from a burning building.
What do we agree on? We agree that the specific tests, the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests, are flawed and should be significantly improved in order to be valid measures.
There--twice a day.