Fed up with standardized tests May 19, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, teaching, Uncategorized.
Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, standardized exams, teaching
When I was a kid, I remember taking Iowa Basics tests every couple years. I remember this because I was both stunned and disappointed. I was usually impressed because my grade equivalencies placed me at least three grades ahead of then current placement with the gap widening as time went on. The disappointment was because nothing ever came of it. I sort of assumed that everyone I was going to school with must have similar scores because I was kept with the same people, in the same grade, without even so much an acknowledgement.
Well, okay, there was an acknowledgement – there were usually comments about how my math computation scores were so much lower than everything else. (This is what led me to believe, for many years, that I was bad at math.)
My kids haven’t used Iowa Basics, and I find this very disappointing. In a move that I can only assume is a result of No Child Left Behind (or, as I affectionately like to refer to it, the “Lake Wobegon Law” because everyone must be above average), there has been a shift away from tests like Stanford Achievement or Iowa Basics to NWEA Map testing.
The only way I can describe this is useless info that’s providing a moving target. The test provides percentiles and approximate ranges for competencies in various subfields. It is frequently renormed. In many respects, it’s the same as any other standardized test.
My beef is that, as far as I can tell, the only purpose of the test is to see how your student(s) compare with the rest of your district or nationally. On the other hand, I will say that it’s not the only one that does this. However, it seems like there are a lot of schools moving this way, and I see it as a huge detriment. The reason is that I don’t think you can make decisions about a child based strictly on their performance compared to a norm. However, that’s exactly what teachers want to do. They see an area of relative weakness in a child and want to hold them to that level for all of their abilities. I am left to ponder why it is they never want the child to be working at the level where they are capable and make an attempt to bring the weak areas up to par with the strong areas. Of course, if you have nothing to determine where they’re actually achieving, it’s hard to implement that type of education.
This leads me to wonder: how does a child working at age level help them to develop skills above age level? If you’re teaching a child stuff s/he already knows, aren’t you just holding them back?
The complaints I received about my ‘lousy’ math computation scores are one example of this. I have several tests showing this problem which constantly elicited comments from teachers about how I was poor at math. I get the impression that they looked for personal weaknesses but never really made the connection that my average was different than most of the other kids. Their solution, therefore, was to have me work on more computation at grade level.
Scores that only consist of a percentage relative to norms tell you is that one’s performance relative to everyone else may be an area of weakness. It doesn’t tell you, however, where you’re really achieving. It’s a bit different if you have a grade equivalency sitting next to the norms. It turns out that my ‘lousy’ math computation scores implied that my computation was equivalent to the average child two grades ahead of me. And it should be fairly obvious that if they wanted to me to be achieving more strongly in computation, they would have been giving me more computation at 2-3 years ahead of grade level. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and most often, it’s still not. It’s a lot harder to dismiss a child’s achievements when you have a solid basis of comparison (a kid two or three years older) than some vague percentile. Those percentiles don’t give teachers a true picture of achievement; how many teachers have frequency tables for a normal distribution sitting nearby? My impression is that it leaves them only feeling that when a child is at a very high level, the child is learning and thriving in their current environment. They have the mistaken impression that the child is having their needs met, when in reality, the child could be seriously underperforming relative to their potential. Likewise, they may get the impression that a child is struggling but fail to realize that it’s because they lack basics from prior years.
I therefore would like tests to go back to giving grade equivalencies. I think this illuminates the level of child achievement and gives teachers a better idea of what they are actually dealing with. There is a good amount of research showing that teachers are actually some of the worst identifiers of children’s intellectual gifts, and taking away the frame of reference that grade equivalencies provide is going to make it worse for the child and parents or other advocates.