The Future of Test-Driven Accountability Is Bleak

The best single prediction for the top education stories of 2015 was made by the conservative Rick Hess who anticipates:

Proposals for "Smart" Policy Disappoint, Yielding Calls for "Smarter" Policy. We will hear a lot of anguished, thoughtful calls for "smart" regulation and policy. When those regulations and policies are adopted and don't work as intended, we'll be told that it's an "implementation problem." The solution to this problem will be new proposals for "smarter" regulations and policies.

In their predictions for 2015, the mainstream education press bumps into several of the classic themes that Hess spoofs. More earnest prognosticators ask whether the "smart" standards known as Common Core will be implemented. Will "smarter" tests, survive and influence national politics, and will blended learning finally start to live up to its hype? There seems to be little doubt, however, that objective analysts anticipate the escalation our testing wars.

National Public Radio's Claudio Sanchez predicts, #1 Standardized Testing Under Fire. The new tests tied to the Common Core, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, will continue to be targets as calls for a high stakes testing moratorium gather steam. Even Bill Gates and Arne Duncan could become allies in opposing the testing mania.

Also, #2. More Troubles For The Common Core, leads to the prediction that "more (Republican-led) legislatures will call for long, drawn-out reviews, or the outright repeal, and ... Some states may simply 're-brand' the core to satisfy opposition groups." So, CCSS opponents will face a tougher battle in defeating the standards, even if they successfully attack Common Core tests.

Politico's Maggie Severns, in her analysis of next year's battle over reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, also focuses on testing, and concludes with a similar prediction. In 2015, anti-testing advocates will offer alternatives to test, sort, and punish, such as testing students every other year or a few times throughout their school careers, or testing a sample of students. Reformers (such as Bill Gates and Arne Duncan?) will likely reject these common sense ideas because they hold firm to value-added evaluations of teachers and principals.

Although the Republicans will attack Duncan's obsession with test-driven accountability, in doing so they might be "capitalizing on the chance to grab hold of an issue they can use as a bargaining chip down the line." And that leads to the most likely outcome of NCLB Reauthorization. As conservative Mike Petrilli predicts: "The president vetoes a long-awaited rewrite of NCLB, 'and Republicans have a bill that they could run on.'"

Regardless of the accuracy their speculations on these edu-political horse races, nothing in these journalists' predictions indicate that smarter high-stakes testing can be implemented in ways that actually improve schools.

I hope Larry Ferlazzo's predictions turn out to be the most accurate. His #2 prognostication seems to be wishful thinking: the Gates Foundation "will cease its support of Value Added Measurements as a tool for teacher evaluation." His 4th prediction, however, seems pretty safe to me. The appeal of the anti-due process Vergara ruling "will wind its way through the courts during 2015, 2016 and eventually be successful in 2017, thereby leaving teacher tenure and due process unchanged in California." Reformers "will spend untold millions and enormous amounts of time throughout the United States in 2015 pursuing similar suits that will ultimately lead to similar losses."

Ferlazzo's 5th prediction also seems inevitable, Hillary Clinton will distance herself from "the Obama administration's non-research-backed and often anti-teacher efforts." But, I wonder what she will do if Ferlazzo is wrong, and the Gates Foundation circles the wagons and remains committed to test-driven accountability for teachers.

Ferlazzo is betting, #6, "the final fleeting hopes for the two 'next generation' standardized testing consortiums (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) will be wrecked on the rocks of money, bureaucracy and lack of imagination. ... They will not be rigorous but they will be "fatiguing, troublesome, difficult to deal with, oppressive, harsh." Then,#8, he anticipates that much of the anti-Common Core energy "will burn itself out, despite it being an issue in the Republican presidential campaign." Common Core standards in some states will be replaced with remarkably similar standards but, more importantly, "no matter what happens, it won't affect much of what we teachers do in the classroom."

And, that brings us back to another no-brainer. Rick Hess predicts:

9) New Reforms Are Found to Work . . . Until They Don't. A boatload of new studies will report that X, Y, or Z "works" (e.g., "raises reading and math scores"), though few or none of them will demonstrate similar effects when replicated at new sites. Come next December, we'll then get fired up for 2016 studies on other exciting new programs that--and I'm going out on a limb here--will go on to post similarly bleak track records.