Archive for June, 2015

Trouble with Testing 

Monday, June 15th, 2015
SBAC elementary school

SBAC elementary school

Let us dig down into the trouble with testing – deeper than the Opt Out uproar. District representatives have spent a great deal of time explaining why assessment is important. It provides a set of statistics to compare the individual school to the district, to other regions in the state, and to the nation. It provides the teacher with an affirmation of his/her observations about the success of the single student. Analysis of the scores for a class tells what needs to be re-taught and taught next. But do those attributes provide a clue to the drawbacks to current  testing seen by teachers, parents, students?

At this time, the country is awash in opinions and myths about the new country-wide standards and the testing that has been devised to assess progress. Denise Juneau, Montana’s state Superintendent of Schools, fending off critics, reminded the state that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are about good teaching. Connecting CCSS to testing problems is misguided.

The drawback that has affected many states, whether using tests by Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC) or PARCC, the other test consortium, is the technological platforms that were assembled too quickly. For example, an article in Montana’s Billings Gazette discusses the glitches that delayed testing for eight days. Too many students tried to access the platform at the same time which brought down the entire system for two other states besides Montana. Measured Progress, the vendor assigned to oversee the testing technology, agrees that the project must be revised. See “Several Montana Schools to Continue with Smarter Balanced Testing After Glitches” by Alice Miller Missoulian, April 17, 2015, Billings Gazette.

In addition, not enough computers are part of the problem. Timelines for using computers, tablets, and laptops must be aligned. For example, Sedgewick Elementary in Cupertino, a district in the heart of Silicon Valley, is an example of these difficulties. The school spent weeks on assessment because the grade levels had to be assigned to go to the computer lab that was set up for their particular assessment. For students who missed a day, computer time had to be reserved to make up the tests missed.

Can you imagine the time needed to download the test level for the grade assigned to a session, the intricacy of allotting time for make-up exams, and time needed to show kids how to access the exams – even in a district where computers are part of every child’s home? Also, understand that district budgets set limits for the cost of upgrading computers, laptops, or tablets. Is it enough as the technology improves? In addition, think of the time, cost, and number of technicians needed to make sure the machines and servers are maintained.

Looking even deeper in the assessments, elementary students take exams that depend on the child’s understanding of word processing. They must write sentence answers in both the mathematics tests and the language arts tests. Teachers have said that the school curriculum will need to include how to word process. Do not use tablets as they do not have easily accessible keyboards. How will students show what they know if they are spending all the testing time searching for the question mark, deleting misspelled words, typing the equal sign rather than the plus sign, to name a few? Imagine the students who are learning English. Imagine students who live in a poor, rural area of the country where the school district does not have money for up-to-date computers and servers for a high school. SBAC and PARCC do have paper exams for such schools. Does that preserve equality?

Eventually, these difficulties will be corrected, but the next post will address the question of emphasis on the wealth of testing and poverty of analysis. What’s the purpose?

PS: And don’t count on fiscally stingy states to address these issues.  Several states have dropped out of the consortiums and refuse to adopt CCSS. Why? They want to change the standards for their students on their own. Do they think they can implement the technology needed, cultivate a set of standards different from CCSS, as well as create assessment that ensures student success in the 21st century?

The education administrators in those states are burying their heads in the sand. Have their tails begun wagging for help?