KU News: Book examines history of standardized tests

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Book examines history of standardized tests, why they persist

LAWRENCE — For the past 50 years, standardized tests have been the norm in American schools, a method proponents say determines which schools are not performing and helps hold educators accountable. Yet for the past 20 years, it has become clear that testing has failed to improve education or hold many accountable, according to a University of Kansas researcher and author of the new book “An Age of Accountability: How Standardized Testing Came to Dominate American Schools and Compromise Education.”

 

Katie Sowers will give 2023 Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture

LAWRENCE — The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas will recognize Katie Sowers at the 2023 Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture next month. Sowers will give a talk at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 discuss her career as a trailblazer for women in the sports world. Sowers, a native Kansan, made history in 2020 when she became the first woman to coach on an NFL staff in a Super Bowl.

KU Army ROTC excels at 2023 Task Force Leavenworth Ranger Challenge

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Army ROTC Ranger Challenge teams showcased their skills and determination as they participated in the 2023 Task Force Leavenworth Ranger Challenge competition, which took place Oct. 13-14 at Camp Dodge, Iowa. KU was the only program to bring home two trophies in both competition categories. Cadets included students from Andale, Baldwin City, Cedar Vale, Holton, La Crosse, Leavenworth, Olathe, Overland Park and Shawnee.

Full stories below.

Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860, [email protected], @MikeKrings

Book examines history of standardized tests, why they persist

LAWRENCE — For the past 50 years, standardized tests have been the norm in American schools, a method proponents say determines which schools are not performing and helps hold educators accountable. Yet for the past 20 years, it has become clear that testing has failed to improve education or hold many accountable, according to a University of Kansas researcher whose new book details its history.

“An Age of Accountability: How Standardized Testing Came to Dominate American Schools and Compromise Education” by John Rury, professor emeritus of educational leadership & policy studies at KU, tells the story of how testing became a central focus of American education policy roughly from 1970 to 2020. The book details how it rose to prominence, persisted through generations of leaders and how policymakers routinely ignored evidence that the tests were not improving education for most students.

In the book’s introduction, Rury wrote how testing in American schools dates back to the 1840s but really took hold in the 1970s, when contemporary accountability began with a “minimum competency” high school graduation test in Florida. Other states subsequently adopted a similar approach, especially in the South.

“One of the big questions with these exams,” Rury said, “was setting cut scores. And there was really no scientific way to decide that. In Florida, they set it arbitrarily at 70% because that was the score needed to pass classes generally. The consequence of that was many kids failing, especially African American and poor students.”

The book also covers questions of race and standardized exams. Rury described how tests were called out for racial and cultural bias early on, but the assessment industry responded, and by the 1990s organizations such as the National Urban League backed testing to help address the achievement gap.

Testing has fluctuated in how much attention it gained, and the book outlines how the 1980s became a decade of transition.

“Then testing took a back seat in reform conversations,” Rury said, “and it wasn’t until the ’90s that proficiency became a political priority and testing again became a focal point.”

“An Age of Accountability,” published by Rutgers University Press in its New Directions in the History of Education series, documents how American students scored poorly on international tests, especially compared to Japanese students in the late ’80s. This helped set the stage for standardized testing being used to hold teachers accountable for not educating American students to the levels of certain international peers. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton both embraced testing in the ’90s and even proposed national tests of proficiency. While both met stiff political opposition, it set the stage for No Child Left Behind, the signature education policy of President George W Bush.

The younger Bush campaigned on tales of a “Texas Miracle,” dramatic claims of improvements in schools when he was governor, despite much evidence to the contrary, Rury wrote. The national legislation that followed his arrival in D.C. required students in certain grades to show proficiency in reading and math. More than 20 years later, testing policy remains central to American education.

“All along, since the 1970s, many psychometricians, the people who build assessments, said, ‘Look, you can’t do this with these tests.’ On exit exams, kids will mess up, miss a couple questions below the cut line and not get a diploma, all for just a few questions on a single test. There are major consequences for that in life. My argument is that politicians consistently ignored that. Some even proposed using norm-referenced tests as gateway exams, which is ridiculous. But it all set the stage for No Child Left Behind.”

In the book’s conclusion, Rury outlines how, despite its troubled history, standardized testing continues to be the norm in American education.

“What accountability often does is it really compromises the validity of the test,” Rury said. “This is the underlying problem. When you have a system where people’s jobs are on the line, many are going to find a way to manipulate the assessment process.”

While there are long-standing problems with standardized testing, Rury said his hope is that readers realize there have always been those saying that standardized testing was never meant to be used in this way and to think twice before advocating returning to overreliance on these measures, such as No Child Left Behind.

“These tests are a very poor measure of what kids are doing in schools. That’s the Achilles heel, since most of the variation in scores is due to non-school factors,” Rury said. “I’d rather see measuring growth. That requires testing at the beginning of the school year and again at the end to see how much students have learned. We hear about failing schools, but even there, students often show growth when it’s examined. Saying that current tests are holding schools accountable thus can be very misleading if they’re only administered once a year. I prefer focusing on changes in achievement and using tests not to punish or stigmatize, but to help schools learn how to better serve their students.”

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Contact: Maria Fisher, Dole Institute of Politics, 785-864-4900, [email protected]

Katie Sowers will give 2023 Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture

LAWRENCE — The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas will recognize Katie Sowers at the 2023 Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture next month. Sowers will give a talk at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 discuss her career as a trailblazer for women in the sports world.

Sowers, a native Kansan, made history in 2020 when she became the first woman to coach on an NFL staff in a Super Bowl. Throughout her career, she has been a part of the coaching staff for the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.

“Katie Sowers has blazed new trails for women in sports by rising above the expectations of others to reach the heights of her extraordinary potential. With determination, she committed herself to professional excellence and is showing the rising generation of women that there are no limits to what they can accomplish,” said former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Currently, Sowers is in her third year as director of strategic initiatives at Ottawa University. She also coached the 2021 and 2022 National Champion OU Women’s Flag Football team and now serves as the director of operations and defensive coordinator. As a result of her career, she uses her influence in the sports world to open various doors of opportunity for women’s athletics.

She is responsible for leading the development and fundraising efforts for a state-of-the-art facility for women’s flag football and other OU athletic teams. Sowers will continue to focus on the growth of female athletes and bringing these programs into the spotlight.

“We are excited to recognize our fellow Kansan Katie Sowers at our annual Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture,” said Audrey Coleman, director of the Dole Institute. “This signature occasion amplifies the game-changing impact of woman in leadership and distinguishes the Dole Institute as a unique, much-needed platform for discussing meaningful topics on politics, policy and leadership.”

The program is an annual event featuring women in positions of leadership who break down barriers and make a remarkable impact in their fields. The women exemplify perseverance, innovative thinking and resilience and amplify the need for creating a meaningful dialogue about the importance of women in leadership. Some of the past speakers include Elizabeth Dole, military and veteran caregivers, and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids.

This series is named after former the U.S. lawmaker in honor of her long career in public service. Elizabeth Dole served as commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Secretary of Labor, president of the American Red Cross and U.S. senator representing the state of North Carolina. The Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership Lecture series serves as a tribute to her dedication and contributions to the nation through her public service.

 

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Contact: Lawrence Jenkins, KU Army ROTC, 785-864-1113, [email protected]

KU Army ROTC excels at 2023 Task Force Leavenworth Ranger Challenge

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Army ROTC Ranger Challenge teams showcased their skills and determination as they participated in the highly anticipated 2023 Task Force Leavenworth Ranger Challenge competition, which took place Oct. 13-14 at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

The Ranger Challenge is the “varsity sport” of ROTC, a two-day competition designed to test the mettle of warrior athletes by challenging them physically and mentally through a series of infantry ranger tasks. This year’s event, hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, drew participation from ROTC programs from across Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska.

At the conclusion of the competition, KU was the only program to bring home two trophies in both competition categories, a significant achievement in the program’s recent history. The KU nine-person team secured third place overall out of nine participating teams, while the KU five-person team finished second place out of six competing teams.

On the first day of the competition, teams covered 17.5 miles while carrying 50-pound rucksacks, fighting load carriers, weapons and helmets. They navigated through a rigorous series of events, including the Army combat fitness test, basic rifle marksmanship, weapons assembly/disassembly, functional fitness, hand grenade assault course, one rope bridge and a grueling 10K timed foot march.

Day two brought a fresh set of challenges as the teams continued to traverse the course with their 50-pound rucksacks, covering 12 miles. The day included events testing Army knowledge, claymore mine employment, camouflage application, knot tying, moving under direct fire, calling for fire, and providing for first aid under fire.

The KU nine-person team (including two alternates) was made up of junior and team captain Jairub Constable, Baldwin City; sophomore Jaden Murff, Overland Park; junior David Spenny, Blaine, Minnesota; junior Emma Hanson, Minnetonka, Minnesota; senior Reagan Warburton, Cedar Vale; junior Mark Stump, St. Louis; sophomore Will Rues, La Crosse; freshman Elijah Mortensen, Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia; sophomore Nate Lundgren, Olathe; and sophomores Alex and Luke Rogers, Shawnee. Senior and team captain Caleb Megee, Leavenworth; freshman Braxton Camp, Andale; freshman Taylor Reboulet, Olathe; sophomore Alayna Clayton, Holton; junior Sam Kirk, Overland Park; and sophomore Ben Nash, Shawnee, comprised the KU five-person team (including one alternate).

At the conclusion of this 48-hour competition, KU was the only program to have brought home two trophies in both competition categories, a significant achievement in the program’s recent history. The KU nine-person team secured third place overall out of nine participating teams, while the KU five-person team finished second place out of six competing teams.

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http://www.news.ku.edu

 

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director of news and media relations, [email protected]

 

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