Education Commissioner Morath in the great state of Texas is about to release grades for schools. His quote:
"The idea that the design of the system was meant to highlight both high levels of student achievement and high levels of educator impact makes this essentially the fairest system in the history of the state of Texas." (Article by Julie Chang in the Austin American Statesman, August 7, 2018--see it here--italics are mine.)
The claim in italics is bogus. And it is easy for anyone to see why.
Think of what it means to assess a student. You can do that by imagining the full range of assessment done to create understanding regarding a student or a school as a large sphere, with many layers to it. Trying to understand all the complexity to properly assess student or school needs and assign appropriate judgments is a constant, on-going thing. It requires trained teachers, lots of effort and energy, and proximity to the students being assessed.
Tests are, by design and definition, a focused, limited form of assessment. You can think of each test as focused on a small portion of the surface of the sphere. But that's it. No test exists that can provide a complete assessment, standardized tests aren't even designed go below the surface, and even all the tests in the world can't do the full job of assessment.
When doctors use tests to guide their assessment of a patient, they generally do lots of tests--why? Because tests frequently produce contradictory or inconclusive results. It is then the doctor's job as the chief assessor to interpret the results from the various tests to the benefit of their patient. It is the job of educators to do the same. Should either not do that their conclusions risk being dead wrong for either the patient or the student, with serious consequences either way.
Doctors understand the complete lack of validity in making a complex prognosis from a single test--it would be unethical to do so. Educators understand the complete lack of validity in extending the results from a single, narrow test to a broader judgment that ignores the more critical assessment sphere--and that it would also be unethical to do so.
It is imperative that if judgments about schools are going to be made they must address the entire assessment sphere and get to the level of understanding. That would be the definition of fairness. Any thing short of that is, by definition, unfair. Commissioner Morath, who uses a single test as if it can assess the whole of a student and a school, would be wrong to suggest that what he has done is fair or that his judgments are accurate. A simple understanding of assessment, as well as what a standardized test is, how they work, and the limits in their design, are the only things standing in the way of the Commissioner seeing this.