Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Test

Sharing a few highlights from The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing– But You Don't Have to Be by Anya Kamenetz.  With PARCC testing less than a month away it was worthwhile reading about the history of standardized testing as well as some of the fallacies associated with standardized testing.  Additionally, it was intriguing to see the approach other organizations are taking to collect data about students.  Two points resonated for me.  One, was that PARCC is just another data point, not the only or most important data point.  Unfortunately, the connection between PARCC results and teacher/school/district effectiveness complicates matters. However, the idea that results on a standardized exam given in March and May supersedes other data collected throughout the year is a failed concept.  Secondly, we can do better and we can do more to collect meaningful data about student growth.  The hysteria over PARCC is not worth it considering the exams narrow scope.  Instead, energies should be directed towards supporting diverse, authentic assessments which render information on a range of academic and non-academic skills.

Scores on state tests do not correlate with students’ ability to think. In December 2013 MIT neuroscientists working with education researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities released a study of nearly 1,400 eighth graders in the Boston public school system. The researchers administered tests of the students’ fluid intelligence, or their ability to apply the reasoning in novel situations, comprising skills like working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and the ability to solve abstract problems. By contrast, standardized tests mostly test crystallized intelligence, or the application of memorized routines to familiar problems. The researchers found that even the schools that did a good job raising students’ math scores on standardized tests showed almost no influence over the same students’ fluid intelligence

The anxiety doesn’t end when students go home. The pressure of high-stakes tests is driving parents to act against their own values. “Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral,” wrote Lisa Miller in New York Magazine in 2013 in an article in which she describes sending a fourth grader to school with head lice so she could take the state-mandated English exam to get into competitive middle schools

In a 2011 paper, “Getting Teacher Evaluation Right,” the Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond and three other education researchers concluded that value-added measurements should only be used alongside other means of evaluation and in a low-stakes way. Their research showed that ratings for individual teachers were highly unstable, varying from year to year and from one test to another.

Promoting a single standard of proficiency for every child may be efficient for policymakers, but it flies in the face of current educational theory, which celebrates the individual learning path of each child.

A diversity of achievement and talents would naturally persist even if our society did the utmost to promote the advancement of each person. But nonetheless, the idea that tests represent only a snapshot, a moment in time, puts a huge responsibility in the hands of everyone tasked with bringing up children.

They conceptualize proficiency as a fixed quantity in a world where what’s important is your capacity to learn and grow. They are a twentieth-century technology in a twenty-first-century world. Which brings us back to argument #10: it’s only going to get worse as we attempt to upgrade our academic standards while administering the same kinds of outdated tests. Unless we rethink the way we do things.

Emotional and social intelligence, both internal and external, can be viewed as a subdomain of the twenty-first-century curriculum. But it’s equally valid to look at these qualities, sometimes called noncognitive skills, as necessary prerequisites for success in any field. In the past decade, research from psychology and economics has strongly reinforced this view

But subjecting our kids to year after year of standardized tests perversely reinforces this view. “We did some informal research on this,” said Dweck. “Many kids believe these tests measure how smart they are and how smart they’ll be when they grow up, that the tests can really predict their futures.” Think of eleven-year-old Lucas at the Leaf School tells me the tests are “life or death.”

“We really recommend looking at models of growth: not just where students are today, but where they’ve come from and where they need to go.” The Scantron score sheets of the past focused on static “achievement” or, even worse, “aptitude”; today’s technology, in theory, could enable schools to focus on growth. The snapshot is replaced with a video

It would be more helpful for educational purposes and more hopeful for individuals to understand a student’s capacity for growth and her particular learning strengths and weaknesses rather than merely take that snapshot of whether she is above proficient or below proficient in a specific subject at a given point in time. One way to get at this is so-called dynamic testing.