My, That’s a Very Convincing Straw Man – or Why Superintendent Scarice’s Commentary on Testing is Bogus

Here’s a challenge for Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice: Find me the activist or politician who thinks a student’s ability to answer academic questions correctly on a test can accurately describe the entire meaning and value of that student’s life?

That’s essentially what Scarice is accusing the “educational community” of doing in his recent Op-Ed for the Connecticut Mirror.

Since it was published two days ago, Scarice’s scathing commentary on the new Common Core tests has made its way around the Internet, even appearing on Washington Post’s education blog the Answer Sheet.

It’s no wonder, either. Scarice is a compelling writer, but unfortunately, in this case, his talent is wasted arguing with a straw man – a convincing one at that.

Minus all the heartstring-pulling narrative about the “boundless, tireless, indescribable ” bond he has with his son, the commentary can be boiled down to: “data is meaningless without context.”

To which my response is a resounding, “Duh.” Who exactly is arguing against context?

Scarice would be hard-pressed to find an education reform advocate who’d argue against the importance of context.

While on a WNPR panel back in March discussing the new Common Core aligned Smarter Balance (SBAC) test, Jeffrey Villar, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform told reporter John Dankosky, “I agree, numbers do not tell the whole story. Numbers are actually the beginning of the conversation.”

Is your mind blown yet?

Michelle Rhee, former Superintendent of D.C. public schools and enemy #1 for anti-reformers across the planet, has expressed similar sentiments in a 2014 Op-Ed.

“Tests are just one measure, of many, that we should consider when determining how well public schools are serving kids,” Rhee wrote.

Even lightening-rod principal Dr. Steve Perry would agree that looking at the whole picture, including the unquantifiable is important.

During a 2013 interview with WNPR, he told Dankosky that tests shouldn’t be used as the only measure of student success. Later during the interview when asked how you can quantify how you can tell how well school administrator are running a school he said, “You can tell just by walking into the school.”

I must ask again. Is there really someone out there promoting we use student testing data without context?

I think we can all agree that standardize testing data – including the SBAC data awaiting release – is just one piece of the puzzle. You can’t derive the entire sum of a student’s ability or teacher’s performance from a singular measurement – but that doesn’t make it any less important.


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