High Stakes Assessments

During my clinical, I student taught at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in the Primary Years Program (PYP). The PYP curriculum does not encourage standard testing, but encourages a diverse variety of formative and summative assessments that allows a student to independently show what he or she knows. There were several points during my clinical where I questioned this method. It seems that some teachers casual skipped over areas of learning because they weren’t forced to test their class. This observation took me to another question: When is the appropriate time to start testing students? Students will eventually have to take the SAT and will be regularly tested at the university level. Whether or not an individual educational institution works against testing, education systems don’t work in isolation. Does there need to be education in test taking? Anyone who has taken a standardized test knows part of the success is in an individual’s ability to master test taking.

Until recently, student test results counted for at least half of a teacher’s yearly evaluation (AJC). The Georgia senate passed legislation to drop the weight of testing on a teacher’s evaluation to 30 percent.   While supporters of the bill believe this will encourage more creativity and flexibility in the classroom, critics argue it will be more difficult to weed out weak teachers (AJC). It seems that as testing requirements are debated, improved ideas for teacher evaluation are coming up short.

I am extremely interested in the Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium. We’ve all experienced the panic ensued by looking at test question after test question and feeling like we know none of the answers. The SBAC suggests a customized assessment where questions increase in difficulty if an individual is answering correctly, but decrease in difficulty if a student is answering incorrectly (Smarter Balanced). This provides a structure of confidence to students who may give up on a test if they feel they don’t know any of the answers, while also providing data into the level of information a single student has mastered. During my clinical, I had a student who suffered from dyslexia and dysgraphia. During MAP testing, I sat with him and read all of the questions and multiple-choice answers aloud. As I watched him, I could tell when he knew an answer, when he was making an educated guess, or when he simply gave up and picked an answer at random. If he hit several questions in a row he didn’t understand, he began to lose focus and interest in the test. If assessments could successfully be customized, a student’s emotional and mental capability to survive and succeed on a test would most certainly increase.

My teaching license is currently dependent upon my passing the final Praxis test. I chose to take all the Praxis Core subjects at the same time, and the test took me about four and a half hours to complete. I wasn’t allowed a single bathroom or water break unless the clock on my test was still counting down. Four and a half hours! Sure, my success was greatly dependent on the faculty of my knowledge base, but I was just as much being tested on my rigor and stamina. I’m an adult who is emotionally capable of overcoming the stress this type of test presents, and somehow, we expect children to be capable of this same self-awareness.

PYP curriculum encourages student-led research and discovery. If, for example, the classroom is learning about the planets, and the classroom gets really intrigued with Mars exploration, then the learning should flow in that direction. All teachers know that when students are excited about their learning, a lot of learning happens. But if I am pressured to cover a specific content area for test success, I have to stop my students’ enthusiasm and redirect them to the agenda.

Tests are an easy way to compare a result to a standard, but what standard are we looking for?

 

Smarter Balanced. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.smarterbalanced.org/about/

 

MyAJC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/school-testing-overhaul-legislation-goes-to-the-ge/nqrzj/

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