I can just imagine the skit Jon Stewart and his crew at The Daily Show will put together on this: D.C. schools officials have written the nation’s first statewide standardized test on sex education, drug use and health.

Yes, indeed, according to this story by my colleague Bill Turque, there will be 50 questions and the test will be given for the first time in April 2012 to kids in fifth, eighth and tenth grades, along with the regular standardized tests in math and reading and other traditional academic subjects that are part of the city’s accountability system.

The decision to create the test comes out of a D.C. law passed in 2010 requiring that the city produce a report every year describing progress on student health concerns. But the legislation’s sponsor, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, a Democrat representing the city’s wealthiest ward, says she didn’t anticipate the geniuses at the school district (my words, not hers) would come up with a standardized test to meet the requirement.

She figured they would find another way but, alas, she was underestimating the obsession for standardized testing that drives school reform in the District and across the country today.

There is no end to the subjects that school reformers cannot subject to a standardized test, including, Yearbook class, about which a high school student complained in this post, entitled “Student: Why do I have to take a standardized test in Yearbook?” that I published in May.

Here’s why. The student was in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, where officials last spring field-tested 52 new standardized tests in a new assessment regime originally aimed at giving students these exams in every subject so that all of their teachers could be evaluated on the test scores.

It is unfair to use test scores to evaluate the “value” a teacher adds to a student’s academic progress; there are lots of factors that go into how well a student does on a test and ferretting out exactly how influential a teacher is isn’t exactly a science. Still, it is the approach favored by today’s reformers, and hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in creating such systems.

After a wave of skepticism in the obsessive testing in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, officials are now saying that the tests aren’t to evaluate teachers for any merit pay scheme, but are just to give teachers information that can help them with individual students.

Really? How can tests given in the spring, with results coming even later, help teachers figure out strategies for students who are about to go home for the summer? Besides, why don’t we trust teachers to design their own tests to evaluate students? Do we need to pay for-profit test companies to design them?

However often President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan say they are opposed to too much testing — and they do from time to time — the fact is that their policies have spurred even more testing than existed before they took office in the No Child Left Behind era, begun under former president George W. Bush.

Lest anyone think I oppose sex education because I think a standardized test on the subject is silly, let me say that I don’t. It’s important, and important to do right.

There is no question that risky behavior by teens is a major problem across the country, and, city officials say, is an especially serious problem in Washington D.C., where rates of childhood obesity, sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy are among the highest in the country.

But Turque quotes Adam Tenner, executive director of MetroTeenAIDS, a community health organization that helps with health education in D.C. schools, as saying that most health education programs in D.C. schools are inadequate.

Just maybe the time and money spent on developing the test would be better used to train teachers and develop materials for students to really learn the health challenges facing them.

While Tenner told Turque he supports the test, apparently because “what gets measured gets done,” he should probably take note of the new SAT scores that show a downward spiral over years in reading despite obsessive testing over the last decade in the subject. What gets measured, in fact, doesn’t always get done, at least not well.


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