An Interview with Yovel Badash: Standardized Testing- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Rest of the Story

Jun 14, 2013 by

Michael f. Shaughnessy


1) Yovel, you have just written a book about standardized testing. I know about the flaws psychometrically, but what do you see as the major concerns?

The main point about standardized tests is that is not promoting education excellence. Teachers are under pressure teaching to the test – schools cut programs that are not tested to make sure they have more instruction time to subjects that are tested – administrators are dealing with a whole lot of overhead and requirements instead of supporting their teachers/educators – students are under pressure performing on the test – and it is not really promoting education excellence. Tests are not used to help the student improve – they are just there to take a snap shot of where everyone is.

The reasoning behind it in many cases is accountability – but there are many ways you can hold people accountable – without lowering the standards or creating an environment of teaching to the test.

We need students to identify, develop and maximize their talent and potential – not just do well on tests.

2) Recently, there apparently was some skullduggery or even cheating in Atlanta. What do you know about what transpired?

I actually don’t know any specific details other than what appeared in the news. And while I think that fraud is unacceptable in any level – I can understand the drivers behind it.

When you are a school or a district that is threatened to lose your funding due to test results- you are kind of being set up to fail.

The educators in Atlanta were not inspired to help their students reach their potential – they were expected to get them to do well in a test otherwise, they would lose funding or worst – get their school closed. This crime reminds me of the issue with parents that use false address to get their kids into a better school. Some of these parents are going to go to jail for education fraud.

Under the No Child Held Back vision – this does not make any sense. Every child no matter where they are born should have access to the best education system possible.

Teachers should be regarded as one of the most valuable contributors in our society – not just demonized for lack of performance of their students or their employment conditions.

We need to encourage education excellence – not just “not leaving anyone behind” or “doing well on tests”.

When the vision of our education system would change – I believe many of these issues would disappear.

3) Can parents, principals, school board have ANY faith at all in the results of these standardized tests?

This is a very tricky question…to be honest I am not sure these tests provide much use for anyone in the system.

In many cases the results of the test are shared back with the teacher/student 2-4 months AFTER the test was taken.

So, even if it was a perfect test with great value – what’s the point getting your result 4 months after you have taken the test?

How can these test results help you be a better teacher or a better student/parent?

Moreover, the purpose and value of these tests is really not clear. We can develop better ways of keeping everyone accountable while bring the joy of learning to the classroom for both teachers and students.

Under the No Child Held Back vision – tests become something completely different.

It becomes a tool in the hands of the educators and the students – to reach education excellence – not only compare students to their peer group.

4) I hear about these various companies selling “test prep“ packages- is this a scam, or just a rip off?

I am not too familiar with these “test-prep” packages but I am sure that like anything in life you have different levels of quality here. Some companies probably do a great job, others might not be worth the investment. But the question remains – why would we want our students to do well on such a test?

If there is a standardize test in a known format – a good teacher can help a student do well on this specific test.

Does that mean that the student is reaching their potential? What if a 5th grader can score an A on an 7th grade standardize test? Why should they wait 2 years to get there?

Aren’t we running the risk of losing them to boredom while they wait on others?

What about a child that has been dealing with some personal issues and are really behind on a subject – do we want them to feel like they don’t have a chance.

Label them as failing just because they needed more time or dealt with problematic circumstances.

Also – do we think it is fair that parents that have more means can better “prep” their kids and therefore have better “chances” in life?

Why can’t we create an education system where no matter your personal or socioeconomic situation – you have access to the best education possible?

5) Back in the 1950’s and even 1960’s I can remember taking these tests, and as I often say they were “ filed away and forgotten forever”. Now what are they being used for?

I am not sure that today it is really that much different. Tests are being used mainly for comparing students to their peers – or for ranking schools and acting as some sort of an accountability measure.

In some cases the data can be analyzed and the system can arrive at some conclusions on trends or performance of groups (students, teachers, location, race etc.).

But in most cases this data is not really used that way – and the focus is on the lowest performing groups and what can be done to improve them.

If you ask students or teachers what value are they getting from these tests – you will get very interesting answers I think.

If you examine what leading education figures think about our testing environment these days – you will find a lot of criticism and dissatisfaction.

6) Yovel, I talk to teachers. Some seem depressed, some upset- but the vast majority question why a student with a 30, 40, 50, 60, or even 70 I.Q. is taking these tests. What would you say to these teachers?

In some ways your question in touching one of the most critical issues in our education system. First – there is really not a lot of joy in our current school system.

Teachers are really depressed, frustrated and find it hard to function effectively in the reality they need to deal with.

Imagine you are a teacher that has a challenged student that needs more time or special attention – it is almost mission impossible for the teacher to effectively deal with this situation.

How can that teacher or student act when they both know the student will fail his/her test?

When we are looking at our students based on their age (manufacturing age) and the only way we can deal with them is as if school was a factory – there is really no creativity or inspiration.

Both students and teachers face a frustrating reality – with very little they can do about it.

To be honest I think we should be very proud of many of our teachers that are keeping at it – although they wanted to give up long time ago.

If we don’t change our mindset – and create a student centered – No Child Held Back vision – we risk a lot more than just scoring low on tests.

7) Now, what step further, I know there are students who are blind, and have the test read to them- and kids who are deaf get it interpreted via ASL ( American Sign Language). Is this appropriate? Are the results VALID AND RELIABLE?

I can’t really speak about the validity or reliability of these tests for these students – all I can ask is does it really make sense?

With these students the paradox is even greater – we spend so much money and focus on measuring something that is not that useful and is not really encouraging education excellence.

What if we would use these resources to help these students be the best they can be – give them the tools and support they need to excel?

We spend so much on measuring and worrying about accountability – while we miss the real purpose of our education system which is to help every student identify and reach their potential.

8) As you can see, I capitalized VALID AND RELIABLE-as these are the two key words in terms of testing. Give us your take on the validity and reliability issues?

Again, I am not an expert in determining the validity or reliability of these tests. I am assuming the ones conducting these tests know what they are doing.

But let’s ask the question what are valid and reliable test? What does that really mean?

Does it mean that if you aced your standardize test your future is guaranteed? If you failed the test – does that mean you have no chance of being a successful part of society?

We need valid and reliable tests to help students figure out what they are good at and where they can improve. What is their learning style? What are their interests…?

Tests under the No Child Held Back framework become an actionable benchmark that drive education excellence and not promote fear and punishment.

Test should not be the goal – it should be a tool to help us reach our goal – which is allowing each student to reach their potential.

9) Tell us about your book- and are there instances when children should be retained ? Say, a ruptured appendix where the child is hospitalized and loses 60 days of school?

Under the No Child Held Back a child losing 60 days of school should not be an issue. First – schools should be able to teach outside the normal classroom environment.

Use digital tools and web technologies to allow students to move forward even if they are at home or in the hospital.

We need to stop thinking of our school system and a brick & mortar entities – learning can happen at home, on-line or in the classroom.

Further – each child needs to advance in the material based on their own interests and pace. We should allow students that “Get it” quick – to move on and advance and allow slower students to spend more time on elements they are finding more difficult.

No Child Held Back is a completely new vision for our education system. It is a new paradigm – and I am sure it can work!

We just need to understand what it means and believe it to be possible. That’s the only way we can make it a reality.

You asked about a child that has health issues – which is somewhat of a simple case.

What about whole districts in NJ that were not able to get to schools for weeks due to the damages of hurricane Sandy?

Should we retrain the whole district? Should we hold them back due to this natural disaster?

It is really time we understand that we need a new approach to education. We are spending too much to accept this reality.

What we are trying to do in the book is to answer 3 basic question –

WHY – education reform is needs and why now is the time to do it.

WHAT – is the right approach for education excellence and how does the No Child Held Back vision fit into this story.

HOW – can we actually start changing our system tomorrow to move towards this vision.

The book is not a hard read – but it is not designed to be “fun” or “interesting” – the book is designed to drive the reader to act.

We must enable our schools, teachers, parents and students to take back control of our education system. We must develop a system that will enable EVERY student to thrive and be the best they can be.

It might sound too hard or too good to be true – but the recipe is written. What we need now is grass-roots adoption of the new paradigm and continuously improve it.

We want people to start thinking about and demanding change!

The book is trying to paint a picture of what is needed and how we can get there.

10) What have I neglected to ask?

Perhaps the last point I would like to make is this – a revolution is going to happen in our education system. And it will happen sooner and faster than we imagine.

It is a tsunami that will wash the whole world and change the way things are done.

The system can embrace this change or resist it. In both scenarios change will happen – the question how painful it will be and who would be the winners or losers of such change.

Let’s give our teachers the support and resources they need – help them be the most effective teachers they can be.

Let’s get our students to believe nothing will hold them back.

Let’s bring joy and fun into the learning process and remove some of the administration and mandates we currently have.

This is not that complicated – let’s develop the best teachers in the world, provide personalized self-paced curriculum and start using technology for pedagogy and not just for technology sake.

If we do this right – we will be much closer to a reality where no child will be held back from reaching their potential!

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