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ETSU professor’s new book takes standardized tests to task

Rex Barber • Mar 2, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Poverty and standardized testing are two things limiting education in this country, according to an East Tennessee State University professor who wrote a new book on the topic.

Eric Glover is the author of “The Myth of Accountability: What Don’t We Know?” published by Rowman & Littlefield Education. Glover is a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis in the ETSU Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education, where he also coordinates the principal training program.

“Here’s what I think: The original human organization was the family, and human beings have been extremely successful using that organization,” Glover said in a recent interview about his book, wherein he argues that operating schools much like families will lead to greater student success.

Glover said schools now are operated like machine organizations. Factory assembly lines are examples of this kind of machine organization. Glover said it is a mistake to apply the assembly-line-production-for-mass-markets mentality to schools because schools perform better as family organizations where members grow and learn from each other.

He calls this the “lead-teach-learn triad” or “LTL.”

The result of standardized machine-oriented schools has been a slight raising of test scores since the 1980s, Glover said. This move toward standardization was implemented in the 1980s to improve SAT test scores, which had been on the decline. Glover said the scores seemed on the decline because for the first time a larger portion of the population was going to college. The pool of applicants was larger, therefore the score average was lower.

A desire to improve test scores prompted a change to standardization through the 1990s and eventually the No Child Left Behind reforms that rely heavily on test scores and reduce the engagement of teachers with students by making them accountable for certain test scores, Glover said.

Standardization leads to graduates who know a lot of specific facts but perhaps not necessarily how to apply their knowledge, because standardization presumes knowledge is a static thing; that it does not change or that people do not adapt what they learn to various situations, he said.

“It’s learning how to acquire knowledge and how to use knowledge is what we need to be focusing on,” Glover said.

But beyond that, standardization assumes all students learn in the same way, he said.

He suggested moving past standardized testing.

According to an ETSU news release on the book, “Open Inquiry” and “Developmental Empowerment” are two concepts Glover introduces as ways to improve LTL practices in schools and other organizations. Open Inquiry is a set of conversational tools for listening, valuing and respecting others that leads to learning. Developmental Empowerment is a research-based proposition for understanding human development as a function of the construction of learning.

But another factor that affects education is poverty. Changing the way education is delivered can overcome that, too, Glover said. He pointed out that some inner city schools have improved through local communities rallying around their school.

Glover said this country has some of the best and worst schools in the world. He said poverty is the reason for failing schools but improvement is possible, just not through standardized testing where schools are held accountable to a specific number.

“And what I would like to see us do is build around the entire community, where the school is at the center,” Glover said.

Glover taught in New Mexico for 12 years or so before becoming a principal at a school near Santa Fe. He became well-known there for promoting change in education. He began a doctorate program and became principal at a school in the Los Alamos school system. His school was the poorest in that system, he said.

Through his professional work and his academic work in education, he said he has found that people in leadership roles often become “technically arrogant” with regard to policy.

“As a result, they’re blinded by the possibility to change and improve,” he said.

Glover arrived at ETSU in 2004.

“I started writing this book really in 2005,” he said. “It grew initially out of my dissertation. It’s been a good six, seven years in the writing. And one of the good things about writing something like this is ... you continue to learn.”

Part of the reason for the book is to help policy makers move beyond the machine organization framework for education.

To learn more about “The Myth of Accountability: What Don’t We Know?” or to order a copy, visit www.rowman.com or call 800-462-6420.

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