Category Archives: Standardized Testing

Vol.#102: NCCAT Revisited

This week, I went to the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching and attended the usually funny and always insightful sessions of Dr. Deb Teitelbaum during a program entitled “Teaching Beyond the EOG“. I hadn’t been to NCCAT since June 2012 as a Kenan Fellow. I wrote about that experience way back in Volume #5 when TSV was in its infancy.

I have taught middle school language arts for seventeen years, have a master’s degree in teaching, and am twice national board certified. One might wonder if there were professional development that could significantly improve upon the instruction of a teacher with this much time and training already dedicated to perfecting the craft. However, this week at NCCAT will unquestionably make a profound impact on teaching and learning in my classroom. I appreciated learning, practicing, discussing, and analyzing research-based pedagogical strategies. The time we were given to create materials using these high-quality strategies and then share them with each other was particularly valuable.

I learned about one particular strategy for students completing nonfiction passages on standardized assessments. This nonfiction strategy didn’t have a catchy name or clever acronym, as most all pedagogical techniques do. I was initially very skeptical, since it called for students to not necessarily read the entire passage. (*gulp*) Then we actually used the strategy on an 8th grade EOG passage. I got 100% of the questions correct. This was clearly a game changer.

I determined that to be comfortable using it with my students, I needed to convey to my students that I was not saying, “only read these parts”, but how to mark what to go back and reread as they completed the questions. After all, to get every question correct, I never read all of the body paragraphs, but I did read one of them three or four times.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.40.48 PMSo, with this message as my goal and my penchant for  designing these types of things, I created an alliterative name and an analogy to using GPS technology. These are the resulting directions for students. I am most excited to use it with my students in the coming weeks.

 

 

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Vol.#87: Thoughts On “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate”

I really love kinetic typography, and if the video is about education, all the better.

So I came upon this video this week:

I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.

On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.

And yet…

There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.

I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?

The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:

  • How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
  • How do teachers convince the powers-that-be that we value criticism, but not uninformed critics?
  • How do we explain that we value high standards, but not high stakes?

Vol.#85: Toil & Trouble

As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…

Bubble Bubble

Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.

Carry on.

Vol.#78: Never The Destination

accountableI read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.

It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.

After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.

Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If  I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her.  It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.

Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a  summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)

Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year.  And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…

Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone.  However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor. 

TL; DR:

Education Haiku

Vol.#52: NCLB

Not much to share today. Just my snarky pondering created on pixlr:

demaNding

Carry on.

Volume #44: Literacy Data, Part Deux

In my last post, I argued against the use of the current practices for gathering data for measuring growth and proficiency in literacy.

I suggested that for math, formative standardized test data is a biopsy. For literacy, it’s more like an autopsy.

And while the data indicates strong versus sickly readers, this information is usually no surprise to the professional educator, and more importantly it offers no treatment plan: advice on which medicine to administer.

With the release of my state’s scores re-renormed to the Common Core, there’s lots of focus on all the new data. What it all means. Why the scores are lower. How it will be improved.

And while the politics rage on, I have to explain to parents that their child simply went from twelve centimeters to five inches, and yes the number may actually be smaller, but I believe it to show growth in his/her reading ability.

And I need to take this new information and figure out how it should inform my instruction. I need the data to indicate a treatment plan for the literacy health of my students.

During my participation in VoiceThread titled “Formative Assessment and Grading” in October 2011, Dylan Wiliam said something that has always really stuck with me:

“One of the problems we have with formative assessment is a paradigm that is often called, “data-driven decision making”. This leads to a focus on the data, rather than on the decisions. So, people collect data, hoping it might come in useful, and then figure out sometime later what kinds of decisions they might use the data to inform.  I’m thinking that we ought to perhaps reverse the ideas in data-driven decision-making and instead focus on decision-driven data collection. Let’s first figure out the decisions we need to make, and then figure out the data that would help us make that decision in a smarter way.”

~Dylan Wiliam   “Formative Assessment and Grading”,  Slide 5   [My emphasis]

I’ve pondered this at great length. If my goal is decision-driven data collection, what would I want out of a standardized literacy assessment? What do I want the data to tell me?

What else? What other information (as a teacher or as a parent) do you believe the data should provide about students’ literacy abilities?

Vol.#43: Literacy Data

countsSeveral years ago, an ELA colleague and I were presenting writing strategies to another middle school’s PLTs. The IRT’s office was in the PLT meeting room, and during a break between our sessions she remarked how she always had math teachers coming in to scan the results of their County required standardized test benchmarks immediately. However, she always had to chase down the language arts teachers to “make” them scan the bubble cards for the data. They’d given the test as required, just not scanned the cards for the results. She asked us what to do about it, and we sheepishly admitted we were often the same. Amazed, she asked… “Why?”

“Well, that data doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.

Standardized data from the math benchmark practice tests tells our math teammates if students are struggling with decimals, or fractions, or two-step equations. In short, if students need more help…and if so, with which with specific skills.

The truth is…the data on these reading benchmarks tells us that since our AIG students score higher gifted readers must be better readers and our ESL students who are learning English don’t score as well on a test for…reading English.”

Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi
Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi

None of that is new information to any literacy teacher, and even if it were it doesn’t speak to how to shape his or her instruction. We are Data Rich, Information Poor. (D.R.I.P.) Analysis of that data does not help us see the path forward clearly for our students. Perhaps worse, it doesn’t necessarily even reflect the quality of instruction they’ve been given.

And while greater educational titans like Alfie Kohn have already explained  the many problems of relying on standardized data for, well, anything, it is my contention that using it to measure English Language Arts, both for measuring teachers and students, is an exceptionally erroneous practice.

Standardized testing by definition is supposed to be an “objective” assessment. However, subjective factors such as beliefs and values aren’t shouldn’t be separable from measuring literacy. While math is cut and dry (there is a right answer) interpretation of a literary work it not black and white. The students who can argue support for more than one of the four cookie-cutter answers – and do so in their heads during the test thereby often choosing the “wrong” one – are likely in reality the best readers. Disagreement on what an author meant by effective figurative language use or dissention in supporting different possible intended themes are not to be transcended in analysis and assessment of literature but embraced.

Am I missing some insight in interpreting formative standardized benchmark data? Is there some value here that I am overlooking? Please let me know in the comments!