Huffpost Business
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Fallon Headshot

Learning About Tests

Posted: Updated:
Print

Working with educators around the world has taught me that progress, however defined, often comes in incremental steps and is always hard won. A shift is happening right now in testing, and, it's for the better. Parents, teachers, students, policymakers and education professionals around the world want to apply new technologies to reduce pressures on students while continuing to collect the data that are foundational to measuring a child's development and the efficacy of the curriculum, which itself is changing to reflect the realities of a global, skills driven economy. This change has come a long way since my own daughters were sitting state tests a decade ago, but we are not at the peak of this wave yet.

In my role as chief executive of the world's largest learning company, I work closely with educators, so I appreciate the challenge of this transition. School districts across the US and globally lack the technological infrastructure to go completely digital. New devices and software require training. Curriculum needs to be rewritten. None of this is happening as quickly as we might expect. Every district has to make tough decisions about how to best manage the investment and timing necessary to make this transition successful.

Just a fraction of a student's educational costs are spent on high stakes testing. But given the high value placed on the results, every question is scrutinized before it lands in front of a student. Our job, with the support of a huge team of teachers, researchers and testing experts, is to help write and administer these tests for students around the world. Last year, we administered more than 100 million tests. Just twenty percent were taken online and eighty percent on paper. At the current pace of advancement, it will take a decade for that ratio to be flipped.

While we spend every day focusing on the student, our relationship with them is often indirect, especially in K-12 schools. We bid for and operate contracts for a state or city's department of education. Companies like ours help write the tests, assess the efficacy of the questions and then work with schools to administer each exam. Before hiring a contractor, policymakers decide when and how students should test.

It's a complex system and one that, working with the education community, we're constantly looking to improve. With all that going into creating an assessment, it's understandable when confusions arise. A recent example - that there are "gag orders" in these contracts - is in danger of becoming a popular misconception. Let's be clear: there are no gag orders in testing contracts. There are steps taken to ensure that questions and answers are secure during the testing process and are not leaked to the public so each student has a fair chance to show what they have learned , and states work to protect their intellectual property. But there is nothing in any contract to prevent teachers from voicing their overall opinions. In fact, we believe that progress can only be made if everyone contributes to improving the system.

Despite all of the work that goes into writing, administering and protecting the content of these tests, the system is far from perfect and mistakes are made. Test questions can be confusing. Networks and computer systems could fail. When issues do arise in our work, we are held accountable, and rightfully so. The system is built on trust and it can be lost, quickly. We consider it a great privilege and responsibility to work with students and teachers, and we take it very seriously indeed. That is why we are investing millions of dollars in research to improve curriculum and testing systems. With teachers at the forefront, new systems and higher standards will improve learning outcomes.

Progress is coming thanks in large part to the hard work of the teachers who spend every day focused on their students. We look forward to continuing to work with teachers across the country, and around the world, to help students succeed and promote higher quality teaching. I am optimistic about the future for our students, as we all should be.