Dear Bill and Melinda,
As a School Psychologist, I love nothing more than good data. After thirteen years on the job, I still get a thrill every time I score a cognitive or academic test. There is something very solid and reassuring about a standard score and percentile rank that can be reported in writing and shared at a meeting. After thirteen years, I also realize how unimportant these numbers are. My job is not to find out, “How smart are you?” My job is to figure out, “How are you smart?” The numbers are a jumping off point and my job is to take the jump.
All students, but especially those with learning difficulties, need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. They need to learn how to learn, and to be guided in their pursuit of their passions and interests.
The biggest obstacle to this is high stakes testing. Students lose weeks and weeks of instruction time in order to prepare for these tests. Students lose interest in the material, and the scores tell us NOTHING we did not already know about the student. As a numbers junkie, I am continually impressed by the data teachers gather daily on their students. At the elementary level, teachers know their students intimately. They can track their progress with minute detail, using multiple measures. They are experts.
As a School Psychologist, I am also keenly aware of the business of assessment. The most useful (criterion based) assessments are free. They are based on years and years of pedagogical experience and supporting research data, and help track the individual student’s progress over time. However, many companies also offer expensive standardized assessments. I use them every single day. I cannot emphasize enough the limits of these assessments, even when administered individually by an experienced clinician. Obviously, I believe the data they yield to be useful, but only a small part of the picture of the whole child.
As an assessment specialist, I can imagine nothing more ludicrous, or irresponsible, than giving precious, limited public funds to corporations developing high stakes tests for the masses. Students are unique individuals, and educators are experts in measuring growth. Education is an art and a science; it is not a business.