Really, it starts with politics. Big testing is a direct result of decisions made by politicians at the state and national level. What motivates these politicians more than anything? Money! So to me the question then becomes who benefits financially from having these high stakes test at the end of the year? I think we can all agree that is without a shadow of a doubt, that it is the big textbook companies. I am not going to name them here, but this is super evident in the state of Georgia where I live. Whose branding is all over the state online testing platform? Why it's a large textbook company. Where did the test come from? A large textbook company. Whose material is the state issued review materials? A large textbook company.
In the end, the large textbook companies are all over the state test, but you can even go deeper. To me these companies are losing the battles for schools, and they are desperate. I have evaluated one of the large textbook companies interactive material recently, and they were frankly just plain awful. They were not interactive at all, and that's why you see teachers turn in droves to education startups that bring something new to the table. Right now, these startups don't have the financial power to compete with big textbook, but think about in 5 years. They will have so many users that many might have that power. That has to scare big textbook to death. You could see that as a reason why they have poured money into state testing, review materials, and standards based textbooks. They then have the money and the power to push members of the state and national legislature to keep those issues to the forefront.
News coming out of the LA Unified School District shows that big textbook is not afraid of doing shady deals in order to push their initiatives and material through. LA Unified just recently canceled a program to outfit every kid with an Ipad that was loaded with a big textbook publishers supposedly interactive material. The program turned out to be a complete failure. While much of the blame can be placed on LA Unified for their roll out plan, the real heart of the issue came down to the big textbook publishers material and way of operating. First, their are accusations that this went through because of the relationship between the superintendent and the big textbook publisher. If this is even half true, it proves that this big textbook publisher will do anything to stay relevant no matter how unethical it is. Second, the materials that the big textbook publisher brought to the table were the main complaint and problem with the entire initiative. This proves they are behind the times, and it supports every teachers vision who has completely given up on using one of their textbooks.
Really, this all comes down to, why are we forcing these kids to take these test? I think pro-test folks would argue that it is in order to get comparative data and in order to evaluate the teacher / school. Why do we care about the comparative data? If we truly believe all kids are unique comparative data should mean nothing. Kids grow up in unique situations and environments that skew that data. An easy way to look at that, would be the difference between low income area and high income areas. To really change those test scores, we would need deeper societal change. This also means that using this as an evaluation tool is in many ways not relevant. While these test can sow ineffective teacher trends, there are many great teachers in low income schools that will struggle to get their children to do well no matter how great a teacher they are. In the end when you think about who benefits financially from these test, it changes the perspective.