Posts Tagged 'standardized testing'

How Computerized PARCC Testing Will Widen the Achievement Gap

6551525739_6b13d4f526_o.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – There are many valid ways to criticize the PARCC test, Common Core, and the Pearson Education Dynasty.  Much of this criticism requires speculation, however.

Well, as we begin to really embark on a new regime of high stakes testing called PARCC, one thing is becoming abundantly clear.  Poorly funded school districts do not have the capacity to implement a computer-based test.  At schools in our poorest urban and rural districts, technology access, broadband capacity, and staff and student technological literacy are real issues that impact teaching and learning every day in a way that staff and students in affluent districts probably cannot even imagine in 2016.

Pearson, of course, wants PARCC testing to be computer-based because they get to maximize profits by cutting the expenses of printing and grading paper-based tests.  And as Pearson said it, so it was done.  Many school systems have begun the new era of high stakes testing, where students strain their eyes in front of computers for hours taking tests that can be graded almost as soon as a student clicks submit.

For districts with one-to-one technology access, high levels of staff and student computer literacy, and strong broadband connectivity, this is an easy, perhaps even welcomed, shift.  But alas, these districts, with their robust budgets, often boast high passage rates on standardized tests regardless of format.

The districts where test scores have been traditionally lowest are the districts that are seeing students sit in front of a computer, taking a very hard test, as servers crash, computers turn off and on without warning, and interactive parts of the test fail to work because of broadband problems.

What the computerized PARCC test has done is take standardized testing, made the test more challenging, and increased the barriers for success for students in areas that have traditionally seen the lowest test scores.  How did the PARCC do this?  They shifted the test from paper to silicon and shifted Pearson’s profits from outstanding to unfathomable.



To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question

5843577306_1a98149efb_o.jpgBy Bill Waychunas – “Because I said so.”  No words that a teacher (or parent) ever wants to utter. That’s how I felt as I pathetically begged my 9th graders to do their best on a recent PARCC test, which is the newer, more rigorous, common core version of standardized state assessments.

My stomach turns thinking about the questions they asked and the half-baked responses I gave as I tried to give them a quick pep talk before settling in for testing.

“Does this count for a grade?” – No, but…

“When will we get our scores back?” – Probably not until next school year…

“What happens if we just go to sleep during the test?” – Nothing really except that I’ll wake you up…

“So, why does this test even matter?” …because I said so?

Inspiring, right?

Generally speaking, I believe in testing and assessment as a way of verifying student understanding and for teacher and school-wide reflection on their effectiveness. After all, every teacher assesses students in some way; informal and formal assessments happen every day in class as students volunteer correct or incorrect answers, complete homework assignments, or do ANY assignment. Show me a teacher who doesn’t assess or test their students in some way, and I’ll show you an ineffective teacher who likely has no end goals for their course or who rambles aimlessly through content assuming that “if I said it, then they learned it.”

Tests are not inherently bad. But, they can certainly be used in a way that is hurtful to our education system. The PARCC and Smarter Balance tests will provide information and insights into teaching and learning that were previously unavailable. Never before have we been able to compare the schools in different states, districts, and cities in such a widespread and consistent manner. The potential to make more informed policy decisions to improve our education system based on such assessments is enormous. But, by not testing smart, we risk wasting everyone’s time in the process.

Here are some questions that schools, district, and state policy-makers should be asking so we can become smarter about standardized testing in our classrooms:

  1. Will this test be useful? If the test doesn’t tell the teacher, student, parent, or school anything that they can use to take action on behalf of a student, then it is probably a waste of time. Tests should show us what students know, as well as where they are struggling so that we can make plans to remediate misconceptions, target instruction towards skills that haven’t been mastered, and push students to new more difficult levels when they’re ready. We cannot keep giving tests just for the sake of giving tests; there should always be a good reason to give them.
  2. When will we get the results? If it takes months, or even weeks, to get the results back from an assessment, then it’s generally too late to do anything with them, making them generally useless to a classroom teacher or parent.
  3. Does this test really matter? I’m not arguing for high-stakes testing, but tests should count for something. There are other ways to make tests matter than giving them a grade or threatening a student with repeating a grade level if they don’t reach a certain cut-score. If no one at the school particularly cares about the results of the test, then we should really be asking ourselves why we are taking the test in the first place.
  4. How much time are we spending on testing? A high-quality and thorough test takes time, but that doesn’t mean that we should be testing all the time. Some schools and districts spend so much time on testing, that they seriously curtail the amount of time spent actually teaching. Lots of people like to blame this on federal or state testing requirements, but the reality is that, in most cases, we are doing this to ourselves through district or school-level decisions. I’m not sure that I have an exact percentage of time that should be spent on testing, but the “law of diminishing returns” is at play here. By only using tests that are actually valuable to instruction, we can avoid hitting the avoidable point of assessment and data overload.

This is by no means a comprehensive, fool-proof formula for solving all of the woes related to standardized testing, but by taking some time to make more thoughtful decisions about what, how often, and why we test, we can perhaps find a fair middle-ground between assessment and instruction. For my sake, I hope that we can find this middle ground soon so that I never again have to utter the words “because I said so” as the empty and hollow reason for taking a test.

Just for the Record: I Am Not a Prostitute

By Claudia Felske – So I get this email from ETS (of ACT/SAT/AP super-testing fame) offering me the “opportunity” to score STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) exams.

And even more exciting than the prospect of electronically scoring standardized tests in the isolation of my own home is the whopping $13 per hour they are willing to pay me.

At this point, equal parts disbelief, insult, and amusement are frolicking in my head.

$13, seriously?

Just for the record, I am not a prostitute, physically, academically, or otherwise.

This has me thinking, why do we do what we do, and why do we do things for money?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (thank you Psychology 101) comes to mind.


Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow reminds me that if I have my most basic needs met (food, water, shelter), unless I’m a former Olympic runner from Stevens Point, I will not prostitute myself for money. So ETS loses on that count.

Next comes safety and security, and since I have good health and gainful employment, ETS’s $13 per hour fails to lure me on the physiological front.

Love and belonging? Check and check as I count a loving family and wickedly fun friends among my good fortunes. And besides, one can hardly imagine hours of scoring standardized  providing love and belonging, but rather their opposites.

Next on the Maslow plate is self esteem. You know, confidence, achievement, respect from others? The things that scoring standardized tests would suck from the marrow of my very bones.

Finally, self actualization, the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. This is nirvana, flow, purity of soul and spirit, notions known to vaporize in the mere presence of standardized tests.  

So, ETS’s job offer pretty much fails on all levels of human needs and desires, leaving one to ask what conscientious and competent educator in their right mind would score standardized tests for $13 per hour?

None, I think, and here’s why:

  1. Teachers are busy, very busy. Show me a teacher who doesn’t do school work at night and on weekends, and I will, with great disbelief, ask you to prove it.
  2. Teachers who love being teachers love the kids, love the content, love the teaching itself, but rue the stacks of papers and tests. Correcting is the bane not the allure of the job.
  3. Teachers are human beings. In the little down time we have, grabbing a book, touching base with our spouses, getting to know our own kids, taking a lap at the gym—these are things we aspire to do, not assessing standardized tests.standardized-testing-comic3
  4. Standardized tests (as I’ve written repeatedly) only work on standardized kids. Our students are dynamic individuals who develop at different rates and have different aptitudes and abilities. This is why we need to teach them as individuals and not judge them in a standardized, meaningless way.
  5. Finally, $13 per hour is inordinately insulting. If standardized tests are to be given, they must be scored in a valid, reliable manner by qualified experienced educators. $13 per hour is in no way commensurate with the task, and will in no way take this jobattract qualified experienced educators. You get what you pay for, and while ETS will find people to score the STAAR exams, they will be inexperienced unqualified non-educators who determine the outcomes of these high-stakes exams which have enormous consequences for students and schools.  And that, ETS, is simply disgraceful.  

So, for all the reasons mentioned above, to borrow the timeless lyric of Johnny Paycheck, “Take this Job [ETS] and Shove It.”

And remember, just for the record, I am not a prostitute.  

To Compromise or Clash: Students’ Identities & Standardized Tests

220px-BubblerBy Aubrey Murtha – Many of my English classmates can attest to the fact that I am kind of obsessed with understanding the ways in which a regional identity can shape us, our preferences, our beliefs, our ways of viewing the world, and even our intelligences.

A quick example:  I am from Milwaukee, so I can tell you very quickly and easily what a bubbler is. Someone from out of state may not understand this term because Milwaukee lingo is not one of their intelligences.

I read a book in my education class freshman year (forgive me, Dr. Miller, for I remember not what the title was) that recognized regional or environmental differences as factors that can inhibit a student’s ability to understand a certain topic. I remember that the book criticized the SAT and ACT test writers for writing tests that do not account for such differences.

It included the example of a geometry word problem asking for the angle at which the steps descend from the floor of a front porch to the ground. Students who live in areas where crime is prevalent and it is far too dangerous to spend time sitting outside may not have front porches, and therefore, may already be at a disadvantage when answering this question because they cannot visualize the reference.

Based on this example, it is obvious that environment can impact the way our students perceive and interpret information. How do we address this as their teachers?

This is a really tricky task. We want students to embrace their individual backgrounds and explore their personal intelligences, but it would be nearly impossible to teach lessons and write tests that are individually tailored to each student and his or her identity, upbringing, and neighborhood environment.

Can we draw upon regional similarities to close the more specific environmental gaps? When teaching Milwaukee students, can I use the fact that we are, for example, all Wisconsinites to establish commonalities while at the same time avoiding language that isolates learners? Is it possible to write national standardized tests that are not biased and do not include language that limits some students? Could we have regionalized standardized tests that are nationally recognized by colleges and universities as a sufficient addition to an application for acceptance, or is even this specification still too general to assess, for example, all Midwestern students?

I’m not so sure. These are the questions we must ask ourselves as educators in modern America.  Any thoughts?

Tackling the Standardized Test

download (1)By Amanda Szramiak — I’m one of many students who never liked standardized tests.

Not only have I never liked them (I equate them to torture), but also I have never been good at them.

In grade school, we had TerraNova tests and assessments. I was always scoring “average” on them, and I never knew why.

After a confidence-destroying experience taking the ACT’s in high school, I was fortunate enough to be able able to get tutoring to improve my scores. But, I really hoped that, after I got into college, I would never be personally afflicted by a standardized test again.


The Praxis I was a lot more difficult than I thought, and it took three times for me to pass the math portion. It pains me to think about the other licensure tests I will have to take as I grow in my career. However, I think the testing I will have to endure as an educator will be beneficial and relevant opposed to the random number I received determining my knowledge.

Last week in m education course, we discussed the layers of annual testing, which are college admission testing, district-wide testing, statewide testing, national assessment, and international assessment. I already feel guilty for having to administer these tests to my future students. We also watched a Ted Talk by Bob Sternberg, who is a leading psychologist and shares the same opinions as me on standardizing testing. In the Ted Talk, Mr. Sternberg explained that his grade school teachers thought he was dumb; therefore, he thought he was dumb. His confidence level became nonexistent, and I think too many students, including myself, can relate to this feeling. Mr. Sternberg also explained that his introductory psychology course professor told him to change his major because he would never be a psychologist because of his intelligence levels.

I hope that as time goes on, the insane pressure surrounding standardized tests diminishes. There are too many stories like Mr. Sternberg’s that emphasize the negative impact a standardized score can have on a student. Mr. Sternberg has created different intelligence tests that measure students’ creativity levels, which are to be considered in college admission applications. It is imperative to include creative thinking into standardizing testing. Teachers and policy makers should always want to increase their students’ confidence, not diminish it. Although standardized tests will probably never be obsolete, I look forward to having creative assessments for students as well as seeing a change in the classification of students’ knowledge.

Stop. Put Your Pencils Down. Close Your Test Book.

pencilsdown-200x200By Nick McDaniels – And that’s all folks. Another year of high stakes standardized testing has passed for us.

My students are exhausted after many of them had three consecutive days of three-hour test and were then expected to stay in school for the rest of the day. If you have followed my posts at all, you know that every third or fourth post, I wind up and take a big swing at testing regimes. Let’s get that out of the way now.

My students are over-tested and are exhausted. They are giving up generally and hating school because of these testing regimes and now we are expected to prepare these students for assessments by regularly assessing them and looking at data and then reassessing them and looking at data and then reassessing them and looking at data and then finally we wait for the state to assess them and wait months for the data so that when we finally get it, it is hardly relevant. My students know I feel this way about testing and they agree and are, some of them, even more enraged than I. They are even more dumbfounded by the fact that their performance is somehow tied to my paycheck.

But we came to an agreement, my students and I. They all want to boycott testing like I do, but they, like I, realize that we don’t yet have the organizing done to do so. So they say they will just guess or leave the test blank, but then they remember that it will hurt my salary and might stop them from graduating, so they decide not to do that. So we say, referring specifically to testing, “This world sucks, but, until we change it, we have to live in it.” From that, my students agreed to try on the Maryland English High School Assessment.

This might seem like a small feat, to get students to agree to try on a test that determines their graduation eligibility, but quite to the contrary. This is much easier said than done. I did not have the good fortune of being with all my students while they were testing as I was the test examiner for a certain alphabetical grouping, but I can tell you that more students than I have ever seen before appear to have tried. Other students of mine told me that they stayed awake through the whole test and finished it all. Countless times I have watched students finish a 50 minute test section in 7 minutes by bubbling in letter and taking a nap. This year, I did not witness that. I saw students trying.

On a test that is designed to be a marathon, that is designed to get students living in low income neighborhoods and student of color to quit by providing them with irrelevant or otherwise boring passages that might be meaningful to rich white kids, the students I saw hung in there, they finished the race. They took a test that is designed to further a corporatist, classist, racist agenda, and met it head on. I couldn’t be prouder. Now I won’t know how they did until mid-summer, but what I do know is that my students gave it a good run, and as a teacher, I can’t ask for more than that. For them, hopefully, they will pass all the tests, and never have to look at them again. For me, at least for this year, I can say it is time to stop. Put your pencil down. Close your test book. Open your mouth. And tell the decision makers that we want education, not testing.

Reflections on Testing

standardized_test_sheet_and_pencilBy Katie Doyle — Standardized testing is a popular topic in the education world.

The pros, the cons, the confusion… there is a lot of discussion regarding whether or not standardized testing is beneficial to our school system.  My students just finished a 2-week round of state testing that allowed ample time for reflection on the topic.

The weeks (even months) leading up to the state test were tense.  Teachers had countdowns of days until the test.  They used sample questions in their classrooms.  The multiple-choice format of the test became the foundation of the classroom.  When whether your students choose the correct response dictates funding, resources, and in some cases jobs, it creates a high stress situation in the school.

We all agree that teachers should not “teach to the test.”  But when there is so much emphasis on the standardized test, teachers are under pressure to do so.  They spend weeks preparing for the test – using model questions, practicing test-taking strategies, and reviewing the most commonly tested standards.

This emphasis on testing is not just stressful on teachers.  The students feel it, too. Many of my students were under the impression that their scores on the test affected their grades in school.  They were shocked when I told them that scores are not usually received until July or August, so there was no way it could lower their grade in class.

Post-testing, students are burned out.  They are mentally drained and struggle to focus during these last weeks of school.  They know that the big test we’ve been talking about is over, so they don’t see the point in the last four weeks of school.  They don’t care if they finally get to learn about science and social studies because, at this point, they are over school.  Their minds are already in summer-mode, and the school staff is now spending the most energy on having students simply follow classroom expectations.

Can we blame the students for this kind of behavior?  When the whole school year has been a big discussion about the state test, it’s not surprising that finishing the test signals to students that school is over.  We need to readjust how we think about standardized test and how we explain them to students.  Testing should not be the end all-be all of schooling, so why do we treat it like it is?  We need a better solution to measure student achievement and keep school engaging.

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