The Problem with Standardized Achievement Tests
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Brought to FEN by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
I've described a situation that, from the perspective of an educator, looks pretty bleak. What, if anything, can be done? I suggest a three-pronged attack on the problem. First, I think that you need to learn more about the viscera of standardized achievement tests. Second, I think that you need to carry out an effective educational campaign so that your educational colleagues, parents of children in school, and educational policymakers understand what the evaluative shortcomings of standardized achievement tests really are. Finally, I think that you need to arrange a more appropriate form of assessment-based evidence.
Learning about standardized achievement tests. Far too many educators haven't really studied the items on standardized achievement tests since the time that they were, as students, obliged to respond to those items. But the inferences made on the basis of students' test performances rest on nothing more than an aggregated sum of students' item-by-item responses. What educators need to do is to spend some quality time with standardized achievement tests--scrutinizing the test's items one at a time to see what they are really measuring.
Spreading the word. Most educators, and almost all parents and school board members, think that schools should be rated on the basis of their students' scores on standardized achievement tests. Those people need to be educated. It is the responsibility of all educators to do that educating.
If you do try to explain to the public, to parents, or to policymakers why standardized test scores will probably provide a misleading picture of educational quality, be sure to indicate that you're not running away from the need to be held accountable. No, you must be willing to identify other, more credible evidence of student achievement.
Coming up with other evidence. If you're going to argue against standardized achievement tests as a source of educational evidence for determining school quality, and you still are willing to be held educationally accountable, then you'll need to ante up some other form of evidence to show the world that you really are doing a good educational job.
I recommend that you attempt to assess students' mastery of genuinely significant cognitive skills, such as their ability to write effective compositions, their ability to use lessons from history to make cogent analyses of current problems, and their ability to solve high-level mathematical problems.
If the skills selected measure really important cognitive outcomes, are seen by parents and policymakers to be genuinely significant, and can be addressed instructionally by competent teachers, then the assembly of a set of pre-test-to-post-test evidence showing substantial student growth in such skills can be truly persuasive.
What teachers need are assessment instruments that measure worthwhile skills or significant bodies of knowledge. Then teachers need to show the world that they can instruct children so that those children make striking pre-instruction to post-instruction progress.
The fundamental point is this: If educators accept the position that standardized achievement test scores should not be used to measure the quality of schooling, then they must provide other, credible evidence that can be used to ascertain the quality of schooling. Carefully collected, nonpartisan evidence regarding teachers' pre-test-to-post-test promotion of undeniably important skills or knowledge just might do the trick.
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