Friday, February 4, 2011

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part I)

There are several predictable and pernicious economic factors that impact learning and development, which, collectively, skew standardized test results.

Parents are often dismayed by assessment scores reflecting their child's lack of success in academic progress. Yet we must remember that children grow and mature at dramatically different rates physically, emotionally, socially and academically.

Variability in cognitive development gets reflected in significant differences that we see within members of the same family. So, why is there any surprise that broad achievement bands would be found between disparate economic and ethnic groups? Strikingly different patterns of growth and development are the expected norm, not the exception.

An expectation that children should learn and master the same new content or skill at precisely the same rate is comparable to hoping that all children will grow in height and weight at exactly the same rate regardless of diet, health, genetics, or environmental circumstances.

“Performance uniformity” might be a reasonable expectation in product development and manufacturing models, but not in child development and the incredible complexities associated with human learning.

We often lament the plight of the disadvantaged student, but we seldom acknowledge what being "advantaged" really means. Comparable to a 100-meter track race, where one sprinter clearly benefits by receiving a 40-yard head start, the outcome should surprise no one.

The greatest surprise is that we continue to operate under an uncomfortable pretense that a conversation about the benefits of gross economic advantages are forbidden in our candid public discussions. Talking about the economic advantages that pave the way to academic advantages is impolite.

What we find most amazing is that the “achievement gap” isn’t considerably wider given what we know today about brain development, child development, and the correlations between social status, family income and test scores.

In Dennis Littky’s book, The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business, he offers the following quote from Ken Wesson, a founding member of the Association of Black Psychologists: "Let's be honest. If poor inner-city children consistently outscored children from wealthy suburban homes on standardized tests, is anyone na├»ve enough to believe that we would still insist on using these tests as indicators of success?"

What do you think?

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part II) follows tomorrow.

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