7/14/2005

How “Fringe” is FairTest? Very.




A recent email exchange among education reporters about the difficulty of finding good (informed, thoughtful, balanced) sources to talk about NCLB brought up the issue of whether FairTest, or any other anti-testing outfit, is too “fringe” to be used as an expert source.

I say they are fringier than the fringe on my old suede cowboy jacket, and as such don't often make for good expert sources in stories on mainstream testing.

It’s not because FairTest is wrong or right on the issues of standardized testing and accountability. In the field of education, some – many? – tests may designed, administered, or used inappropriately.

Nor is it that being on the fringe is necessarily a bad thing. Abolitionists were once a fringe group. So were advocates for women’s suffrage. Evolutionists. Vegetarians. The list is endless.

But FairTest advocates a world that is radically (substantially?) different from the one that we live in. That makes it a fringe position, or organization.

By definition, fringe means out of the mainstream. There are fringe festivals in lots of big cities to celebrate outsider art. The grass surrounding the green in golf is the fringe.

The world we live in has tests – lots of them – used for everything from measuring how well a student is learning new vocabulary in a class every week to deciding whether a student gets to graduate or not.

For better or for worse, I don’t see testing going away anytime soon.
And -- this is key -- I don’t see a broad public or parental view that they should.

NCLB would never have been passed [or lasted this long] if the public didn’t approve of pop quizzes and standardized tests, and none of the current testing and report card requirements in the states and districts would survive a minute if a broad majority or even a substantial minority of the public was opposed.

Tests and teachers – we’re “stuck” with them both. And, far is I can tell, the people generally like it that way.

For these reasons, being as wholly against standardized testing as FairTest seems to be [these days] seems to meet the definition of a fringe position.

For those reasons, journalists using them as convenient experts [on statistics, psychometrics, etc.] who readers assume hold reasonably mainstream views seems likely to be misleading.

There are other testing experts out there -- at NAEP, at the National Academy of Sciences, etc. Maybe I should make a list of them.

Again, Bracey et al may turn out to be right on some of the substance.
As usual, I may be all wrong.
Bring on the fire and brimstone.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are mean. Leave Fairtest alone, they speak for the children.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Bracey said...

Your snippet on FairTest is absurd. To see why, go through your essay and
substitute racists and racism for tests and testing. Zero credibility
anymore, Russo.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fairtest is simply another head of the leftist Hydra. Its goal is to parcel out admissions (now) and jobs (later) by strict racial and gender quotas. It has no real interest in whether the tests themselves are "fair" or not. Standardized tests are one of the few controls right now on ballooning high school GPA's. Even dumb educrats are embarrassed when little Johnny gets a 800 (V+M) SAT and has a 4.8 GPA. Take away the SAT and ACT and you will see the average GPA at many high schools be close to 4.0. Try telling college professors that a class with an average of 800 SAT vs. 1200 will perform as well and watch the snickers.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Russo --

You assert that FairTest must be a fringe element because even a small group of parents could easily put an end to high stakes standardized testing if we had a mind to. Well, as a parent who has spent the last three years trying to do just that - I can tell you it isn't so easy!

What's more, I would have to say that any education reporter who believes that parents possess so much political power when it comes to the issue of high stakes testing - might be a bit of a fringe element himself! Welcome to the club.

Sue Allison, Coordinator, Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing (and avid Fair Test supporter).

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like where you said: "being wholly against standardized testing as FairTest seems to be [these days] seems to meet the definition of a fringe position. "

First off, as someone who has scrutinized their website (unlike you apparently) nowhere do i see FairTest being "wholly against standardized testing" in fact a mere two clicks from the front of their www.fairtest.org page will show you their goals and principles as thus:

"Assessments should be fair and valid. They should provide equal opportunity to measure what students know and can do, without bias against individuals on the bases of race, ethnicity, gender, income level, learning style, disability, or limited English proficiency status.

Assessments should be open. The public should have greater access to tests and testing data, including evidence of validity and reliability. Where assessments have significant consequences, tests and test results should be open to parents, educators and students.

Tests should be used appropriately. Safeguards must be established to ensure that standardized test scores are not the sole criterion by which major educational decisions are made and that curricula are not driven by standardized testing.

Evaluation of students and schools should consist of multiple types of assessment conducted over time. No one measure can or should define a person's knowledge, worth or academic achievement, nor can it provide for an adequate evaluation of an institution."

The way I see it it does not make one fringe to remain steadfast in a place of decency and common sense while the politians and their media spin attempt to convince the public otherwise.

Hopefully some of the readers here will do what I just did, and go to their site and click the REAL donate button to help them remain where they are, standing between mindless overtesting and simplified curriculum and the path to opportunity for children that those tests would block.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Dan Chraie said...

I find it funny how the people who are most quick to bash orginzations like FairTest (like your anonymous hydra commenter) are also the most likely to dismiss REAL children with terms like "little johnny". The tone barely disguises their desire to teacher bash and keep the issue on a level of scandal-gossip, anti-affirmative-action-reactionary-rhetoric and political spin.

Organizations like these are concerned with real kids and the life they get to have after all the testing quick fix brands them a failure. If caring and helping are fringe then thats ok with me.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

Jerry -- Your response seems to me like a perfect example of the criticism often laid at your doorstep: turbocharged, hyper-ventilated rhetoric.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Eduwonk said...

"The same day as This Week's Russo says don't quote Fairtest, both the Post and the NYT stories run quotes verbatim from the Fairtest press release about the scores.

Lame enough since there are actually thoughtful critics who could have been reached with these new fangled communications tools we have these days, phones, emails...and might have offered real nuance or texture.

But even lamer still because the quotes are the same stuff Fairtest says about any test (which seem a lot like NEA talking points, right down to the "so-called" NCLB gambit....).

They have little to do with the issue of the day, the NAEP. The NAEP doesn't result in pushouts, teaching to the test, or any of the rest. It's a no-stakes test given to a sample of students.

It is only related to high-stakes testing in the sense that Fairtest sees the NAEP and all other testing as part and parcel of some corporate or oligarchic plot to dominate American society.

Eduwonk disagrees with Russo that fringe groups shouldn't be quoted. Lots of important social movements, as he notes, started on the fringes. However, they should be quoted with some context and in a relevant way, not just as bomb throwers.

By the way, there are problems with standardized testing particularly some high-stakes policies for kids. Isn't the real tragedy here how Fairtest (which once was for fair and open testing) essentially has become Notest and lost the ability to do much serious work to address them beyond howling at the moon (aided by lazy reporters)?"

10:28 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Assessment of student learning is a key aspect of education. For one thing it lets educators know if students are successfully learning the content offered in schools. For another thing, it tells educators how successful teaching programs are at helping students learn the content.

Do the folks at FairTest believe there should be no assessments until we're sure the tests are perfect? If so, that seems ludicrous, and in fact biased against the very children the group claims to represent. Would the folks at FairTest be happier if a generation of children went through school, were never assessed, and learned nothing--that in order to prevent the use of a test that might not be perfect, but might reveal ways that children could learn more and education could be improved?

I don't know enough about FairTest to know how the folks there would answer these questions.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Erin D. said...

The lack of differentiation in your piece between FairTest's view of "pop-quizes to measure weekly vocabulary learning" and "high stakes exams to determine if a student graduates" sadly shows the main thrust of the common rhetoric against organizations like this.

They are concerned that, and any testing industry expert will tell you the same, that no single test should be used to determine someone's educational or professional future and furthermore they are concerned at the effect that all the test prep is having on genuine education.

Where in the thought process on these valid and compelling points does one assume it ok to imply them to be 'anti-testing' or against pop quizes.

As for your assertion that the public opposition could influence, reverse or defeat anything this administration does, thanks. I haven't laughed like that all week.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Mike in Texas said...

I also had a good laugh about your comment on parents being able to influence policy.

Here in Texas the Republican are trying to ram through proposals whose only purposes are to destroy public education. They also are in direct wth the court order ordering the state to fix education funding.

There has been a massive outpouring of opposition to the proposed laws and only one voice of support, from a lobbyist for some of the big name educrap companies. The Republicans consider this a sign of overwhelming support.

Incidentally, these "reforms" will mean 80% of Texans will pay higher taxes, while schools will get no real new money. The proposed increases are less than was removed two years ago and are filled with "mandates" that will actually put school districts in worse financial positions than they currently are.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous Education Reporter said...

I just read your posting and you have good points, but I still say it depends on the story whether or not the group is worth using as a source.

Also, Fair Test's position, while perhaps fringe in this country, is not so fringe in countries like Finland, where testing in the lower grades is diagnostic and student and school scores are kept confidential.

At times, Fair Test comes across as they are against any kind of testing
under any circumstances. Kind of like how PETA is against eating animals under any circumstances, and that we should all become vegans and
nothing short of that will do.

Officially, though Fair Test, in its
goals and objectives and position statements, endorses limited, but
varied testing without stakes or sanctions attached.

My own critique of Fair Test is that they sometimes make the perfect the enemy of the good. It's not enough to have a couple good tests and a couple of other sensible criteria. The organization wants states to spend gobs of money on expensive and hard-to-pull-off authentic ssessment that rises and falls with the quality of the teacher. And probably raise teacher salaries $30,000 across-the-board to make sure teachers are all good.

Fair Test's official stance was a fairly mainstream one until the 1980s when "Education at Risk" came along and we started seeing high school exit exams and the school accountability movemetn.

One could argue that our current love of standardized testing is a needed corrective to the wishy-washy, feel-good progressives who ran education in the 1960s and
1970s. I'm not going to debate the point.

But that doesn't make the position fringe. I would view as more fringe folks who urge the abolition of grades and student conduct rules. Or schools where you should study nothing but the Bible or the Koran. Or those who view public education itself as an illegal monopoly and argue for no government-run schools and no taxes for schools.

So I wouldn't list Fair Test as fringe. A little utopian, but not fringe. That's just my take.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great debate-within-the-debate.

1. Let's stipulate the Anon Ed Reporter's take: that Fairtest has a public persona (studiously avoid saying they are against every form of standardized test) and a "true" persona (they are against every form of standardized test, ie, NoTest).

This is not altogether different from, say, the NEA (officially: we have lots of questions about charters; "true": our ambition is to snuff the life out of charters).

Journalistically, to what extent should a reporter allow a group to "officially self-identify" its position in a way the reporter believes is misleading, versus that journalist "reporting" its position as the reporter perceives it really is?

2. On the narrow question, yes, FairTest is fringe. Reporter basically gets to share two points of view, that's it. If you report on Iraq, you probably cite Administration (things going well), and, say, Howard Dean (things going poorly because Bush is a liar) or Joe Biden (things going poorly and here are specific ideas to improve it). You don't often cite the Quakers (we oppose all wars).

FairTest remarks on education should be cited by newspapers roughly as often as the Quakers on Iraq.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well for a little old fringe organization just scraping by, it sure seems all the corporate types, test companies, and right wing shills spend an awful lot of time discouraging its funding and attacking them without justification.

They can't be too irrelevent for you all to fear them this much.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Steve Orel on the fringe said...

Congratulations to Fair Test for coming under fire by those who promote standards and testing.

That reassures me that FairTest is undertaking advocacy work and having an impact.

There's no need to feel defensive about being on the fringe.

The fringe is where FairTest ought to be.

The fringe is where millions of poor and working poor children have been left behind.

The fringe is where disenfranchised students land when they are pushed out of school.

The fringe is just about all that is left of the public schools in this country.

The fringe is something which "they" created.

It's remarkable really.
Russo, Gerstner, Spellings, Achieve, and the likes, exile most us to the fringes of society.
Then they rail, rant, and rave against us for being there on the fringe!

Please, Fair Test, don't try to fit back into the box.
Feel honored by Russo's attack.
Don't get defensive and try to explain how standardized tests can be one part of an assessment package.
Standards are chauvinist.
Standards are biased.
Standards create losers.
Standards sort human beings out.
Standards don't measure anything except the expectations of the rulers so that they can justify continued discrimination and oppression.

Please, Fair Test, don't worry about charges of being out of the mainstream.

I work with the mainstream everyday
and believe me, we in the mainstream are out on the fringe.

Congratulations, Fair Test!

We appreciate you out here on the fringe.

Warmest peacebuilding greetings to one and all,

Steve Orel
instructor
on the fringe with pushed out students
Birmingham, Alabama
(one of cradles of the civil rights movement, which has always been considered on the fringe)

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My opinion of "FairTest" can be found at http://www.illinoisloop.org/dz_testing.html

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

If parents really wanted change, they'd get it?! These days, teachers have virtually no actual say in educational policy. Of course, there are a variety of committees and task forces in schools that give that appearance, but the reality is that no one listens to teachers. Parents do little better.

The truth is that so many parents are disconnected from their children's educations that they haven't a clue what high stakes testing really is and does. I know of a school district that, in an attempt to raise test scores, spent nearly a fourth of a school year doing nothing but directly teaching to the test. It is surely not the only district in that boat. Did most parents know what was going on? No. If they did, would they band together to demand change? I doubt it. The days of an effective, concerned PTA in every school in America are long gone.

I don't know enough to discourse on FairTest and their policies, but I know this: It is wrong, morally, pedagogically, and in every other way to make any single test the sole determiner of 12 years of effort and learning. Here I mean, of course, high school graduation. That one might have the opportunity to retake such a test a few times does not remove the utter irrationality and foolishness of such requirements.

Accountability? Sure. Tests? Great. Necessary. No touchy-feely inanity about tests harming self esteem or being racist, sexist, or any other ist. But let's put those things in the hands of the people who actually have a clue: The teachers who spend real time with students, not educrats crunching anonymous test scores in state capitals. If a given teacher is incompetent, there is not a district in the nation that lacks the tools to deal with that problem. If they fail to deal with it, the answer is not standardized tests.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

encourage creativity to enhance opportunities for innovations

innovations have proven to strengthen America - standardized testing techniques need much improvement beyond testing for basic skills, i.e., to enable those with creative abilities to be found and encouraged

Check out:

"Truth in Testing Act of 1979"
"The Educational Testing Act of 1979"

H.R. 3564
H.R. 4949

Ninety-Sixth Congress

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares if they're considered "fringe" by definition; if the testing system is corrupt it doesn't matter whether the general public is aware of it or not. That's one of FairTest's goals, to educate an uninformed public, no?

10:49 AM  

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