A. tests are good for students
B. tests are bad for students
C. tests may be used for good purposes
D. tests may be used for evil
E. all of the above
I am thinking quite a lot about our assessment systems we have in place and how they impact actual student learning. Tests have a place in education, but over the past decade that place has grown beyond valid uses. Presently state tests are used to grade teachers and schools, but not students. These state assessments change from year to year in significant and strange ways. Three years ago we would look at the scores for a student on the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and because most students were proficient, there was not much clear information that could be found. So, the cut scores that indicate proficiency were set higher. Now, so few students are proficient, we still cannot use the information to change or adapt to improve curriculum. It is difficult to believe that our students went from incredibly capable to struggling in one test cycle. We are currently using a Z score to set our school improvement goals. This statistical approach compares our school to the average scores across the state. The idea is to be above average. Seems like the type of goal everyone would want. It is difficult for me to feel strongly about focusing on becoming above average on an unreliable criterion referenced test where the target will shift each year in unpredictable ways. Most states use criterion referenced tests to evaluate teachers and schools. That is to say, most states are checking to see how many students can answer questions correctly at each grade level that the state determines students in that state should know. So, multiple choice questions fixate on superficial facts that one could find in a quick google search. I don't know who determines which random facts should be memorized at each level, but I have looked at those tests during the test administration and would have a difficult time with many questions, not due to intelligence or ability, but because I have not memorized that information recently. These tests hold little value or relevance to the student or, one could argue, to the school or state.
On the other hand, most college entrance exams are norm referenced tests that have been standardized over time and across large groups of students to set the acceptable levels of scores. These tests include extremely standardized administration and more valid and reliable scoring. The scoring does not change and the bank of questions are strongly researched and evaluated. These tests are not perfect, but can certainly add pertinent and usable data to judgements about schools and students. These tests are used to accept students into college and thus have a relevant purpose as well. The ACT and SAT are well known entities to us as a country.
In Michigan, we use a criterion referenced test in grades K-8 to measure proficiency and then switch at the high school level to a norm referenced test, the ACT, designed for college readiness. This sequence is problematic since in our building we are focused on factoids and in high school the student must move quickly into critical thinking skills. This mismatch of tests reduces the possibility of success for either the middle or high school student and school.
Given the information above, I will insert my opinion here. Our state and nation purport to believe in building strong futures for students. Neither Michigan nor the United States has given much thought to creating communities to help children thrive. The testing movement is demotivating and frustrating to educators who are forced to study Z scores and not child development and learning theory. The testing movement is demotivating and frustrating to children who begin school eager and curious and are forced to learn meaningless disconnected facts. Students deserve better and we have a responsibility to speak out. As a possibility advocate, I believe in public education as a means to develop good citizens and productive and creative people. This belief is one of my core values and my personal expression of patriotism. I am unable to acquiesce to deadening the natural passion in education. Our current direction is unacceptable. We must advocate for change in the interest of our children. Tests do not determine worth for students. Tests do not determine worth for teachers. Tests do not determine worth for schools. Let us begin to use educational time in endeavors that hold inherent value. It is time to speak the truth about the imbalance in education. We have taken direction from CEO's, politicians, oil companies, technology developers, and test manufacturers. It is time for them to stand aside and listen to educators. It is time for educators to step up.