Friday, April 14, 2006

The Realities of Testing

Testing is here to stay

I’ve had a chance this week to observe students during testing so I can’t help but try to sort out my thoughts regarding this issue.

Testing is here to stay----it’s not going away. When you look at the realities of formal standardized testing it is the best method to prove to the school system, educrats, politicians and the public at large that teachers are completing their contractual obligations. I would much rather see my students and myself graded on more open-ended type questions, however, these can prove to be very difficult to grade en masse.

Test results can be flawed

Earlier this week I posted about a young man who kept falling asleep and was far behind his fellow students. Within five minutes he had suddenly caught up and surpassed his peers---clear evidence of not reading the passages. His scores will not reflect his true abilities or weaknesses. He may end up with a passing or even exceptional score, but during reading instruction next year, his teacher will note serious lapses in his skills. On the other hand, he may end up with a terribly low score by bubbling for the sake of bubbling. It may be discovered that Mr. Bubbles is a fantastic reader who hates to test, and at his maturity level simply doesn’t understand the value of an accurate score.

It is very disheartening for a math teacher to spending the year teaching the students to work out problems on a multiple-choice test and then to observe them on “the” test day complete 35 problems in ten minutes and have absolutely nothing on their scratch paper. It is a rare nine year old who can multiply two-digit numbers in their heads without scratch paper. Most students speed through tests completing reading and answering each question in fifteen minutes. It would take me at least ten minutes to read through the test.

Testing should be appropriate

I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention the appropriateness of the test for each grade level. As I walked the room during our testing period I observed a fairly balanced math and language arts test. The reading passages, however, provided on the reading tests seem to be rather long. Do we really need to assess genre recognition by asking students to read a passage that is a page long? I know from classroom observations and from benchmark assessments given throughout the year my reading students have improved tremendously and most have the skills they need to proceed to the next grade. I also know that they become a bit glassy-eyed having to read twelve different passages accompanied by 6-8 questions even if there is a ten minute break after six passages.

I’ve posted before concerning my thoughts about our state test for social studies. I constantly battle with myself regarding the concepts I teach and the ability of the nine year old mind to internalize them. Let alone minute details concerning various Native American tribes studied in August or which explorer (out of the 15 we were to study) was buried along the banks of the Mississippi so natives would not discover the body.

Testing Provides Data

Testing provides data to assess students, assess ourselves as teachers, assess our grade level or department, and our school as a whole. We need to remain mindful that non-educators focus strictly on one piece of the assessment puzzle to make their judgments. On the other hand front-line educators such as us realize that standardized test scores are just one piece of the puzzle. We need to continue to preach this during professional meetings to remind colleagues when they are overwhelmed with the inadequacies of testing, and we need to inform parents not to base a year’s worth of growth on one test.

The Right Attitude

Should I feel deflated when tests scores don’t meet the targeted goal? Even with the knowledge those scores are in many cases woefully inaccurate I do feel I should be deflated. Something didn’t go right.

Therein lies the challenge and appeal of teaching for me. It’s my responsibility to assess informally and formally all year long for student growth. It’s my responsibility to maintain adequate proof of my assessments so that after standardized testing I can have all the pieces of the puzzle to prove or disprove growth. It’s my responsibility to choose the proper way to deliver concepts. It is my responsibility to change and differentiate the delivery when necessary.

There are many variables regarding successful test scores and failing ones. The majority of these variables I have absolutely no control over. I do, however, have control over my attitude, and how you look at something can make all the difference in the world.


Mike in Texas said...

Unfortunately, none of the state tests accomplish any of the positives. If we are going to have testing then let's have it in the beginning of the year to find out what the kids are weak in, and then spend the year helping them. As it stands now we will get our tests results back much too late to use the datea for anything useful.

TAP teacher said...

I agree with Mike from Texas. What a good idea. Thank you elementaryhistoryteacher for your outstanding expression of good thinking. I need to read your input often to remind myself of these things you have so wonderfully articulated.

EHT said...

Thanks Mike for your idea. I have never seen the purpose of reviewing test scores based on students who have already moved on. Though in my state not only do we give "the" test at the end of the year we are required to give benchmark tests for each academic subject every 9 weeks. These do help us to see problem areas and give us an opportunity for remediation or acceleration.

Thanks tap teacher for the ego boosting comment. Come by often and remember...I love those comments.

kontan said...

powerful last statement....

"There are many variables regarding successful test scores and failing ones. The majority of these variables I have absolutely no control over. I do, however, have control over my attitude, and how you look at something can make all the difference in the world."

the sad part is that there are people who think your salary should be tied to test scores of your students...gee gads scary!

we are soon to enter the world of state testing. lost week of instruction for me. but we do what we have to do....