Let’s say I am a cabinetmaker specializing in high quality, world-class furniture. I want to be sure my work stacks up against the competition so I get out my trusty hammer, which is about a foot long, to measure the dimensions of my new cabinet. I drop the hammer on the surface of my labor of love, flop it end to end a couple of times, and decide my work meets my high standard because it is over 3 flops long.
Ridiculous? Yes, but this is precisely what we are doing when we attempt to use a blunt instrument like the WASL to measure the complexity of learning in an individual human brain. Test experts have been trying to tell us this for years but we have heeded the voices of the Business Roundtable and other “Blue Ribbon” groups who, in their uninformed reaction to alleged inadequacies in our public schools, have succeeded only in dropping a “hammer” on our children. To truly improve instruction we need precise classroom-based tests that provide teachers with the information they need to fine-tune instruction, just as the cabinet maker needs precision measuring instruments to ensure the “fit” of a top-quality piece of furniture.