I’m thinking through an article on standardized tests right now. Let me put my half-developed thoughts on the blog and get feedback:
Twelve years after the passage of NCLB, state standardized tests have become a spring ritual. Kids in every classroom across the country sit down to days of multiple choice math and reading tests. For the most part, teachers, parents, and administrators hate these tests. They say that these tests distract kids from real learning, that teachers are unfairly evaluated with these tests, and that they do not measure learning.
Most of the criticism of these tests stem from the fact that the results of the tests are used incorrectly. The tests are not designed to tell you anything about one kid or one teacher. They tell you something about large numbers of kids. It’s statistics, so the larger the N, the more useful the finding.
It doesn’t say anything about one kid’s knowledge, because this is one test on one day for one kid. A kid could have a bad night sleep and mess up the test. The best way to evaluate a kid is based on an entire year’s worth of work using multiple methods for assessment. It doesn’t say anything about one particular class, because N=20. Not a big number. Some years, you get a sharp class, other years you don’t.
These tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, individual kids, or even the effectiveness of new curriculum.
What the numbers do show rather nicely is what a whole school district or a large subgroup of kids knows (not what they learned) compared to another large subgroup of kids. These tests show rather nicely that the kids from Scarsdale are at a higher reading level in Kindergarten than the kids from New York City.
Why is this important? Educators tell me that it is irrelevant information. But it’s not. First of all, I think it’s really important to be reminded of the disparities in education over and over. It makes us think harder about how to fix this problem. Secondly, it is a useful political tool. Because we know that kids from certain backgrounds are significantly behind their peers at the age of 5, we’re starting to think more about investing in pre-K education.
So, how do we fix the problem of the incorrect usage of standardized tests? We have to remove the penalty component to NCLB.
The other big problem with standardized tests is that the tests make some kids feel really bad. Special ed kids, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, and kids with bad test-taking skills feel like shit during testing week. Did you ever take a test that you knew that you were going to fail? Sucks. I wonder if we could remedy this problem with a little technology.
Let’s put away the number 2 pencils and the bubble grid sheet and set up the tests on a computer. Let’s sit our hypothetical 5th grader in front of a computer with math problems that starts at the 1st grade level. If the kid answers the super simple questions correctly five times in a row, the program would switch to a series of 2nd grade questions. If the kid correctly answered the 2nd grade questions, then he would be bumped up to 3rd grade questions. He would continue quickly moving up the level of challenge, until he started get a few questions wrong. Then the computer would linger in that grade level work for a while to get a better assessment of knowledge. A slower 5th grader might be found proficient at 3rd grade level math, while a more advanced 5th grader might test at a 6th grade level.
This method for assessment would not only give a better picture of a child’s ability, but the testing process wouldn’t make them feel stupid.
What do you think?