A Charter Teacher Asks for Advice About TerraNova

A comment came in last night from a KIPP teacher in DC. She provides interesting insight about how charter schools can manufacture high test scores. She asks for advice about the TerraNova tests. Can you help her?

I teach Kindergarten at a “no-excuses” charter school in Washington, D.C. The accounts of cheating on which you report are certainly appalling and unsurprising, but – as you’ve mentioned – they are only the tip of the iceberg. Even if scores were left unaltered, and even if these tests measured knowledge that we as a society deem important, we mustn’t forget that these assessments are so poorly designed that they lack validity or reliability. One telling example: my school has adopted the TerraNova as our indicator of choice. Our status as a DC charter, our funding, our esteem in the reform community and our enrollment all hinge on the TerraNova scores that we report out. Since the start of the school year, administration has drilled staff on the importance of this one test. Teachers are pressured to study copies of last year’s test (legal? ethical?), instructional coaches design unit tests to mirror exactly the questions that appeared on last year’s TerraNova, students are prepped extensively on the importance of filling in only one bubble, and all dialogue about student learning has been framed around what they “need to know for the TerraNova.” Of course none of this is uncommon in schools such as mine. However, today I was informed that this year’s test will be *identical* to last year’s. Apparently the test makers only revise the test every few years. So we are quite literally training our students to answer this one set of questions correctly. And schools across the country do the same thing, resulting in higher and higher scores, despite lower and lower levels of actual knowledge. What sort of game our we playing? It’s like we’re stranded in the desert, racing toward a well of water that turns out to be nothing but a mirage. We as a country need, first of all, to have a national conversation about the purpose of public education; perhaps then we will come to realize that putting all our energy toward scoring well on a meaningless test is doing our children nothing but harm.

On another, related note… Part of the conversation about the meaning and purpose of public education is the status of teachers and the teaching profession. TCRecord recently published a commentary I wrote regarding the failure of teacher preparation programs, the danger of alternative certification, and the need for a respected, professional knowledge base among educators. I hope you’ll check it out: http://www.tcrecord.org/Opinion.asp

Lastly, I haven’t been able to find any information about the TerraNova, its creators, or its reputation. Are you familiar with the test? Do have any data about it?

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the New...