Matching Assessment with Curriculum
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By Larry Mann
A noose is tightening around the necks of teachers, principals, and superintendents--and that noose is "in the form of high-stakes accountability for standardized testing." So states Mary Ellen Bafumo, director of The Basic School Network, headquartered at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Bafumo's concern arises from the fact that in Virginia, as in some other states, scores from standardized tests will eventually determine which schools will keep their state accreditation, and which high school students will graduate. In Washington, D.C., results from the Stanford 9 achievement tests will determine whether some principals may keep their jobs. The Washington Post reports that standardized test scores may be used in deciding which District of Columbia students are promoted to the next grade (April 19, 1998).
"Teachers are frantic about test scores," says Bafumo. Starting this fall, every school in Virginia will be required to publish its average scores in a "report card" sent to the parents of all its students. One effect of this exam fever, Bafumo warns, is that in classrooms, instruction is often focused on memorizing superficial knowledge required by such tests, rather than on "a curriculum that is rich and offers deep understanding." For example, some Virginia teachers are helping students cram for the statewide Standards of Learning tests by setting up "Jeopardy"-style games with students in teams. Other teachers are preparing students by providing sample multiple-choice questions displayed on large computer screens.
"Standardized testing is one of the narrowest uses of assessment," says Fran Prolman Zimmerman, a New Jersey education consultant. Experts often point out that the multiple-choice format of standardized tests is mostly appropriate for declarative knowledge--the kind of knowledge that students cram into short-term memory and quickly forget after the test. Paradoxically, this narrowest approach tends to address the broadest, yet shallowest, areas of knowledge.
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