Assessing High Stake Assessments by James Green

It has been interesting to learn about where we currently stand with high stakes assessments. Finding out about how these assessments are currently enacted and peoples’ perception of them was very eye-opening. I first began to relate high stakes assessments to myself as I thought about my experiences with them. It became clear that these assessments have become much more commonplace since I went to school. As a 38 year old, the only recollection of high stakes assessments I have is taking the SAT my senior year of high school which was in 1995. I can remember back to that time and I recall not thinking too much of it. I studied for it, but didn’t give it too much thought. It became clear to me in the research I did, that nowadays a much bigger emphasis is put on high stakes tests. Now, almost every state has test/s that measure academic achievement that are supposes to hold schools, school districts, teachers, and students accountable.

In California, where I live and plan to teach, we have the CAASPP test (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress). This tests students in 3rd through 8th grades and 11th graders. These tests are described as an “academic check-up, designed to give teachers feedback they need to improve instruction and the tools to improve teaching and learning.” This is a new test, enacted in the 2014-2015 school year. Basically, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the test because it is so new. ” These computer-based tests will replace the former paper-based, multiple-choice assessments in English language arts/literacy (ELA) and math.” In learning about this test, the goals and idea behind it sound good. They are geared towards giving teachers timely feedback on individual student performance. The California Department of Education’s website states “the primary purpose of testing here is to support learning, not to impose high-stakes consequences.” That sounds great. Again, this test is so new, that it remains to be seen exactly how effective it will be. I talked to teachers at the school where I did my student teaching. I found out that younger teachers were more concerned about possible negative ramifications based on this test than older, more well established teachers were. As a new teacher myself, this test sounds good to me, if it will be used to help me plan and fine tune my instruction. In talking to students, none of the ones I talked to seemed to concerned about the test. That could be because it is still quite new.

In researching high stakes assessment tests, it was troubling to learn about how many teachers are concerned about and frustrated with the idea of “teaching to the test”. Teachers are rightfully concerned about the quality of instruction they are giving when they feel like all they are doing is preparing students to do well on a test. It really inhibits the teachers’ and students’ creativity when there is such a narrow focus. I like how TeachNow has stressed the importance of preparing 21st century learners. These are students who can solve problems and compete in an ever-changing world. It seems when teachers are bogged down with preparing their students to do well on a test, that it really takes away from their students learning how to be problem solvers and free thinkers.

In my research on this topic, I read about the New Mexico Public School System. Teachers there say they spend a lot of time preparing their students for tests. One teacher said that she feels the tests don’t help her students. In addition to that, I found out that the results of the tests come in so late and contain so little information, that the tests really don’t help to guide instruction, which is supposed to be something they are used for. I thought an English teacher there asked a great question. She said “What does this have to do with improving community or climate change or poverty or all of those things that this generation of kids are inheriting?” This gets back to what I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t seem like these tests are preparing our students properly. Memorizing information in order to succeed on a test doesn’t prepare 21st century learners. I found out that they have a litany of standardized tests in New Mexico. They include “Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), and its Spanish-language counterpart, for K-3 on the very first day of school. Discovery Education Assessment (DEA) tests on math, reading, algebra, geometry and biology follow just weeks after, and again multiple times throughout the year. Spring brings the Standards Based Assessment (SBA) science exam, and the Pearson Education-crafted Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).” The article I read said that many on the leadership board there think they have gone too far with all of the testing, but they don’t want to break the law because the tests are state mandated. It was distressing to find out that many of the teachers there feel that all of the testing doesn’t do anything to inform their teaching. It seems like they are just testing for the sake of testing and that nothing really beneficial comes from it that translates to something teachers can do in the classroom. Not only are teachers bothered by these tests, students are negatively impacted as well. All of the testing causes a lot of disruptions for the teachers and students. For example, students were working on a number of projects, such as an aquasonics lab and a solar sound studio when they were interrupted to take a test. Because of that, they weren’t able to finish their projects which they really enjoyed.

Clearly, these high stakes assessments are quite controversial. Going forward, this is a difficult problem to solve. It seems to me, that if we are going to continue to have high stakes testing, that we should make them more practical. I’d like to see them geared more toward preparing 21st century learners. Currently, these tests mainly focus on math and ELA. I also would like teachers to have more freedom. The stress and anxiety and lack of creativity that “teaching to the test” creates is bothersome. These are all issues that are hard to answer and resolve. It would be nice to see some progress and changes made with these high stakes tests in the near future. I think many people would agree with me.

 

References:

Retrieved From: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-12046-Testing Troubles.html June 4, 2016.

Retrieved From: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/caasppcommsb.asp June 4, 2016.

Retrieved From: https://www.gse.upenn.edu/review/feature/supovitz June 4, 2016.

Retrieved From: http://www.education.com/reference/article/high-stakes-testing1/ June 4, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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