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Monday, September 6, 2010

B is for A vs B causality: Standardized Testing

The "No Child Left Behind" issue has a lot of teachers raving. I too feel that standardized testing leads to trouble, both for teachers and students. A VERY brief list:

Teachers:
1. Teaching to the Test restricts creative lesson plans
2. Standardized teacher reviews neglect teachers' connection with students (arguably more influential on student mental health than getting A's) in favor of ability to cram facts into students' heads (teaching vs educating).

Students:
1. Loss of connection with teacher
2. Those in low income areas seem to be getting the short end of the stick...again.
-students in low income schools rarely see change.

If teachers truly want to make an argument against Standardized Testing (aka breaking from the status quo of "intelligence" marks) then we're going to need a few good arguments.

Most of all, we have to watch our fallacies. Suggesting that the testing structure or disciplinary schools leads underachievers to jail time is a slippery slope-standardized testing is not the only cause for jailbirds, and you're leaping over a lot of other information to go from A) standardized testing culture to (b) jail time.

The field is flooded with research, but social science and/or communicative studies need to take a two prong approach:
Two variables are identified previously:

Independent: Standardized testing (needs to be identified further: which test, taken under which circumstances, etc)
Dependent: whatever result you want to study (previously, jail time)
1. Quantitative analysis: Using statistics to test causality. To determine causality you need to identify:
a. time order: (temporal- A comes before B) standardized testing comes before jailed behavior
b. no other alternative explinations: In the example of A)standardized testing causes (b) jail time, you would need to rule out other causes, such as home life, individual factors, mental health, poverty, etc.
c. co-variation: A and B occur together; if A occurs, B occurs, and more importantly in the jail case, If A doesn't occur B doesn't occur. There are plenty of jail sentences served by educated and well-tested people...

2. Qualitative analysis: Focus groups/interviews
Here we don't determine causality, we just go in with a question:
Does standardized testing culture in schools influence *not cause* aggressive behavior, poor self esteem, whatever you want to study.
a. focus groups should be small, five to ten people, of the age group, gender, etc you want to study
b. interviews are one on one-you go in with specific questions.

Qualitative allows you to access a bigger group and make nice mathematical statements, while Qualitative allows you to get the individual perspective. Both statistics (which are persuasive) and interviews (testimonials which include marginalized voices) are necessary to persuade the public and the government that standardized testing truly does have a negative effect on students and school culture.

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