I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2015

More Bad Reformy Testing Metaphors

We've got a twofer this morning from the reliably reformy Star-Ledger editorial board [all emphases  in this post are mine].
There are many reasons why PARCC boycotts are a big mistake. The exam is like an MRI for education. It can tell us where kids are failing and help diagnose the problem, even when it's hidden in an otherwise well-performing district. 
You know what one of the biggest problems with MRIs is? They're overused:
Overuse of medical interventions, such as MRI, is a considerable problem, leading to excess costs and adverse outcomes. Overuse is driven by many factors, including patient expectations, physician concerns about litigation, and lack of physician accountability for cost. Solutions will require strict adherence to appropriate guidelines and better education of patients. The efforts of the Choosing Wisely2 consortium to mobilize medical societies to show leadership in reducing overuse is a positive step to this end.
And this overuse is running up costs:
Despite current guidelines that recommend against CT or MRI for uncomplicated headaches, primary physicians have been ordering nearly $1 billion worth of scans per year, researchers reported here. 
During routine visits to a primary care physician, CT or MRI were ordered for 9.1% (95% CI 4.9%-13.2%) of chronic primary headache patients, and for 13.6% (95% CI 5.6%-22.8%) of migraine patients, according to Brian C. Callaghan, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues. 
"Neuroimaging is routinely ordered even in common clinical contexts (migraine, chronic headaches, [in the] absence of red flags) where current guidelines explicitly recommend against its use," Callaghan and colleagues wrote in a study they presented at the American Neurological Association's annual meeting.
You know, maybe I should change the title of this post -- because it seems like Tom Moran and his crew at the S-L have inadvertently stumbled on to a perfect analogy for today's testing madness.

We're spending billions each year on statewide standardized tests. These tests are warping the curriculum in our schools, yet any evidence that this regime of testing has improved American education is, at best, weak.

Our obsession with standardized testing is like our overuse of MRIs: our "diagnosis" isn't telling us much we didn't already know, and our headaches still haven't gone away.

Like I said, today's column in the S-L has two bad metaphors:
But because parents in more affluent communities have become increasingly suspicious of the state test itself — not unlike the overwrought side-eye given to childhood vaccines — what's now at risk is funding for kids who are most vulnerable.
Actually, the resistance to the overuse of tests is completely unlike the resistance to the use of vaccines.

We have reams of evidence that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. Parents were concerned about the vaccine-autism link, despite all the evidence against it, because self-proclaimed celebrity "experts" had access to the media where they could spout their opinions, as if those opinions were equivalent to the evidence presented by actual scientists.

The opt-out movement is the polar opposite of the anti-vaccine movement. Here, the experts are saying that the current use of testing -- as an accountability measure that compels, rather than informs, high-stakes decisions -- is unwarranted.

Here in New Jersey, we implemented a new regime of high school standardized testing with no evidence whatsoever as to whether these tests are valid or reliable, or whether they are actually capable of serving as accountability measures. Again, these tests are changing the curriculum, even as politicians refuse to provide the resources they themselves say is necessary to meet their test-based goals.

To pretend that there is no legitimate argument against the current system of testing is both ignorant and condescending. Personally, I think we should significantly alter the testing regime but keep it; we could get all of the information we need for accountability and research purposes for far less cost and with far less intrusion into the school day.

But I would never dismiss out-of-hand anyone who thinks that isn't going far enough, and I would certainly never equate their opinion with anti-vaxers. There are legitimate complaints against standardized testing, and opting-out is a legitimate act of civil disobedience based on those complaints.

As usual, however, the Star-Ledger's editorial board doesn't want to hear anything about it. Better to tut-tut at those who actually understand the issues involved here than admit they might have a point.

Don't distract us! We're thinking about MRIs and vaccines! 

ADDING: More from Marie:
WHAT?! "An MRI for education"? Vaccine refusers? Government more concerned about students not taking a deeply flawed and harmful test than they are about children not getting life-saving vaccinations? Did somebody put Crazy in the water?! I'm sorry, please excuse me while I clean up the coffee I just spit out, and adjust the antenna on the tin foil hat Tom Moran accuses me of wearing. I've simply got to find the comedy channel source of his claim. 
 Can someone get her a paper towel, please...

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