A forum for discussing what's working -- and what isn't -- in standards and assessments.

Standardized Testing

BerniceC Middle School teacher on sabbatical

Reference to: Standardized Testing Fails the Exam
By W. James Popham
In Popham’s article he poses the question: “Is it possible to build accountability tests that both supply accurate evidence of school quality and promote instructional improvement?” I think in Nova Scotia, the provincial literacy assessments which are administered every three years, beginning in Grade 3 strive to accomplish this, but are not ‘there yet’! In particular, I am referring to the Elementary Literacy Assessment (administered at Grade 6) and the Junior High Literacy Assessment (administered at Grade 9). Each assessment does measure students’ mastery of “only a few, manageable curricular” outcomes. However, the assessment measures only basic literacy skills in writing, not grade level curricular outcomes. In writing, students’ work is evaluated in both fiction and nonfiction and examines the areas of ideas, matters of correctness, organization and word choice. In reading, students’ mastery of literal and non-literal comprehension and analysis of information text, visual media text, literary prose and poetry/song are assessed. “Lucid descriptions of aims” are provided for teachers so they are able to “direct their instruction toward promoting students' mastery of skills and knowledge rather than toward getting students to come up with correct answers to particular test items”. Where our assessments falter is in the area of “instructionally useful reports” and the recommended usage of those reports.
The reports that are provided are useful to a point. See example at http://plans.ednet.ns.ca/files/2011-2012%20JHLA%20Report%20for%20Teacher... . The point to which they are useful, in my opinion, is that they are only one sample of a child’s mastery of the skills assessed. I do not believe this one assessment, taken over a period of four days, is a meaningful measurement of a child’s mastery of the skills identified. There are too many extraneous factors (i.e.: test anxiety, home situations, whether the child has had breakfast that morning, peer relationships) that need to be considered. They cannot be used as the only indication of a child’s ability. However, based on these assessment results alone, students are identified as ‘Striving or Struggling Readers and/or Writers’ when they do not meet the expectations in specific areas. These students receive sporadic support, are tracked throughout the next three years and the classroom teacher is responsible for gathering data and reporting on the progress of the child. The premise, I believe, is to instill good classroom practice. However, what happens, at times is that it is viewed as ‘extra work’ by some teachers and not always completed as intended. The result is that the students view themselves as different; the interested parents demand extra support and teachers are frustrated because this becomes an additional task that is not supported.
So, although Popham states it is possible to” build accountability tests that both supply accurate evidence of school quality and promote instructional improvement”, I think Nova Scotia’s Department of Education has not achieved all three recommended features in their Literacy assessments. These assessments do not provide an accurate evaluation of schools nor do they necessarily improve instruction. To use only one to tool to provide such significant information is ludicrous. As Alfie Kohn states in his article entitled Standardized Testing: Separating Wheat Children from Chaff Children, “bad practices or unjust laws can continue only with our cooperation and consent. If, having educated and mobilized our neighbors, we withhold that consent and refuse to cooperate in what is being done to (all) our kids, then we can restore sanity to the schools
” (2002)

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