authentic assessment · standardized tests

Students and Standardized Tests

MOteacher’s comment on Ruth’s post last night reminded me of those demoralized kids and the children I used to spend countless hours preparing for City and State Tests. MOteacher wrote:

“Once talk of MAP testing (Missouri Assessment Program) started this week, I found myself in a tizzy about my teaching. I hate the self doubt that comes from teaching in a way that is best for kids, but doesn’t always show up on state tests. I can 100% promise GROWTH, but I can’t promise that all my students will be Proficient or Advanced on the testing data. This self doubt sends me in to orbit about; prompted writing vs. workshop writing, constructed response worksheets vs. literature discussion groups, power verb vocabulary vs. authentic vocabulary from read alouds, grammar worksheets vs. mini lessons related to student writing….What is a girl to do…real teaching doesn’t look like a state test or a worksheet page….

“I ache to do the ‘right thing’ by my kids and still feel like I come up short when we (the school) don’t make AYP.”

What is a teacher to do when you want to teach your kids, but yet you know you have to prepare them for the test so that your school makes Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP?

Arthur L. Costa, Ed.D. said:

“What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value.”

Isn’t that a sad statement, albeit a true one?

The goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is “to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and State academic assessments.” President Obama and Vice President Biden are vowing to reform NCLB. According to the Education Section of The White House Website:

“Obama and Biden will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama and Biden believe teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. They will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama and Biden will also improve NCLB’s accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.”

It’s my hope that change will come with regard to the way we test kids in the near future. But where does that leave teachers who are preparing their students for state tests that are coming-up in the next few months?

We all have a job to do and cannot be insubordinate. Closing our door and doing our own thing is not an option because our students need to be prepared for the tests they have to take. However, all of us can try to find time in the day, even amidst the test preparation, to provide students with authentic work that is educationally significant. This might be the right time of year to infuse independent reading and writing projects into your classroom. If there’s no more than 15 minutes of extra time in your day, then drop everything and have kids write for 10 minutes and share for the other five.

All students should be held to high standards in elementary, middle, and high school. There should be a form of assessment to determine whether or not students are meeting grade-level standards. One idea I’ve had in my head for a few years is to use some form of portfolio assessments. Portfolios containing student work, based off of a state’s standards could be assessed (e.g., in-house assessment or swapping portfolios with another school in a particular region using a uniform rubric). Students who are falling short of benchmarks could either be sent to summer school to hone their skills or could be flagged for academic intervention support services during the school year. My belief is that portfolio assessments, designed with common sense in mind (so that the portfolios do not become cumbersome for teachers to maintain) would measure students’ competencies since portfolios will hold kids accountable for doing their schoolwork and meeting high standards all year long, not just on a few days of the school year.

NOTE: As per the Two Writing Teacher’s Disclosure Policy, “The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely that of the blog owners, not the schools or the school districts that we work for.”

5 thoughts on “Students and Standardized Tests

  1. My school is the elementary ELL site for my district. Each teacher has easily 1/4-1/2 of her students in the ELL program. All the research shows it takes an ELL student at least 5-7 years before they are proficient in academic English. It is very frustrating, that although the research is out there, our policy makers don’t get it.

    I love my ELL students, they are hard working, intelligent and wonderfully curious, just like my English speakers are. It sounds like you are on the right track…keep going your students need you!


  2. I’ve already been through some bluesy days over this. Imagine, my 4th gr students are ELLs (most here less than 2 years) and yet expected to do as well as their native-speaking peers. I’m doing my best. In addition to being required to cram in the standards, I have to get them to read and write English sufficiently to express what they learn. It’s a struggle. I’m overwhelmed. I find myself closing my door and doing what I know is best for my ELLs – lots of language development, connecting literature and writing, opportunities to speak & listen, etc. But admin. is on my case about OE questions, test-taking strategies, reading “longer passages”, and now science (because it counts this year).
    We’re doing our best I assure you! But a good teacher does not FORCE kids to produce that which they are not quite ready to produce.


  3. Quite frankly, if teachers are delivering high-quality instruction in RW and WW, then the kids should do really well on their state tests. You’re right Lennye, it’s not worth making oneself sick over!

    To that end, Lisa, there are things I do year-round that tie-in test prep, but make it fun. I play grammatical games with the kids at Morning Meeting, for instance. When we make it interesting, like you were saying, I think our teaching sticks longer.


  4. In the state of Georgia you teach the standards and this should be the information your students need to know. What I don’t understand is why so many of us are already making ourselves sick over this test; teacher absences are sky rocketing at my school! I’ve been to doctor after doctor already, and another teacher is covered in fever blisters. There are those teachers who pour their lives into their classrooms, doing all the right things, and yet we are rated on how our children do on a test.

    I hope others are able to handle the stress of administration better than my hall does.


  5. This is one of those issues that gets me going! I am in Canada, so our tests are different, but they do still exist. There is just a small portion dedicated to multiple choice and short answers (like circle the noun) so I spend a very little bit of time each day, only 5 minutes really. We do Daily Language which is 5 short things, like this week it was devoted to verbs and they had to circle 5 of them, or change them from a past tense to a present tense. These things get them used to this type of question, as well as review grammar vocabulary (like “adjective” or “Proper Noun”) Then, for 2 weeks before the test we use last year’s test to as a practice and this helps them get ready for the format. I devote hours each day to real teaching, and I think that should be sufficient training for the test.
    I also use The Better Answer Formula by Ardith Davis Cole to help them learn how to answer the longer. open questions. We spend maybe 2 hours per month on this. Then, just before the test, I hammer it home for a few days.


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