Whatever your feelings about standardized tests, they’re a part of American education today. The original goal—to see how students were progressing and mastering reading, math, and science skills—has been achieved—to a point. Almost two decades after No Child Left Behind, we have a lot of data about student performance and also about where standardized tests fall short.
The goal of educational testing is to identify how students are doing on a particular content area or skill so that educators can intervene with individual students or adjust their approach to instruction. In ELA that may be identifying the main idea from a passage. In math, it could be solving problems that involve fractions. Whatever the content area or skill, we want to know how students are doing and how they compare to their peers.
The problem is that standardized tests do not always do a good job of telling us what students have learned. This means that educators, parents, and students may complete testing not knowing enough about what to do next.
All of that leads us to believe that educators need to have a stronger role in creating national assessments. Here are five reasons why.
1. Get the grade-level perspective.
The purpose of standardized tests is to understand how students are performing at each grade level. Involving grade-level teachers would ensure that the content is really reflective of what students are being taught and how they are progressing.
2. Prioritize and focus tests.
Students learn far more than any test can measure in any year. For example, Sarah Eckhoff, science teacher at Butler High School in Charlotte, NC, gives a state standardized test that is 45 questions. Those questions are supposed to cover nine units over 18 weeks. Forty-five questions just don’t cover everything her students learn. Getting educator input would focus standardized tests on the most important content for each grade, shifting the focus from teaching to the test to testing what’s taught.
3. Keep the focus on what’s learned in school.
It’s hard to isolate skills that are learned in school from out-of-school learning. For example, when children come from more advantaged families and economically richer environments, they’ve generally had a broader range of experiences and are more likely to succeed at standardized tests than children who have not had those experiences. When practicing educators contribute to test development, they can capture what’s really learned in school and weed out questions that might be more relevant to outside enrichment.
4. Incorporate relevant test items.
A math problem that incorporates radishes or star fruit may throw off a child who has not heard of either, putting them at a disadvantage because of their background knowledge, not their math skills. Educators know their students’ experiences best and can help make sure that test items will make sense to the students who must address them.
5. Align standardized tests with other school assessments.
Standardized tests should be one aspect of a student’s assessment portfolio. For Eckhoff, state data represents a curved score, which shows more students as “passing.” This doesn’t always align with a student’s grades and class performance. When a student is passing the state test but not passing the class, it’s confusing for students and parents. When educators contribute to test development, it increases the value of the assessments by streamlining them with the actual feedback students get about classwork.
You can help improve assessments in your school or district by participating in a national research study conducted by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). Earn $500 per participating school. Learn more>>