sWell (shakewell) wrote,


(what you test is what you get)

i've spent my morning using the socratic method to draw out my views on standardized testing. i've always despised standardized testing, but more because i could have finished a test that was administered over the course of a week in just one day. also, i never felt that they were assessing much i've what i thought i knew. anyway, i've since discovered a few more reasons to loathe them.

so, here's my essay. to be honest, i'm not posting it here because i'm particularly interested in what you have to say about the issue. i'd rather have feed back on my grammar and use of the socratic method. does it even make sense? does it flow linearly? (the following question should be based up the preceeding answer in some way.)

Q: Is the mandate for annual standardized testing the No Child Left Behind act a useful educational reform?

A: Yes. Students, teachers and schools must be held accountable for their progress. Yearly testing is a way to measure progress and also to compare results against a national standard.

Q: Does comparing test results between students of different schools, districts and states accurately reflect the relative progress of an individual student, school, district or state?

A: No. For instance, while an economically, culturally or educationally disadvantaged student may make significant improvements from one test to the next, he may still lag behind a student from a more well-funded school, rich in parental and communal support. Even if the second student made no progress from the first test to the second, his work at this plateau level may remain above average or satisfactory.

Q: Would you say that a student lacking in this cultural capital has the same opportunity for an accurate representation of his success at school based on these standardized tests.

A: No, because this standard has all to often been the standard of white, middle-class American men from metropolitan areas and, as a result, biased cultural assumptions may even be built into the test as a whole. Many standardized tests do not take into the account the differences in performance which may be associated with students who have not been exposed to the same or similar backgrounds to the test’s authors.

Q: So, white, middle-class American men from urban areas ought to be consistently successful on standardized tests?

A: This sub-group of the population would seem to be most well-equipped for successful performance on standards-based tests. However, all existing tests have a “measurement error” that accounts for day-to-day variances in an individual’s scores due to testing conditions and his mental or emotional state. As a result, test scores are often unreliable.

Q: If tests are not reliable enough to produce accurate results for individuals, can test scores reflect real differences among people?

A: Norm-referenced tests often make small differences among people appear large. In addition, two tests which claim to measure the same things may vary widely in item content. So, test scores do not necessarily reflect real differences accurately.

Q: If tests cannot provide a basis for conclusive comparisons between students, schools, districts or states, do they at least measure important aspects of individual student achievement?

A: Multiple-choice tests do not measure a student’s ability to grasp concepts, understand reasoning, derive meaning from readings, communicate ideas or to apply math and language skills in other real-world situations. At best, standardized tests can measure only certain kinds of student learning – and can’t give a complete picture of what an individual needs.

Q: How then can one measure those other kinds of student learning not (accurately) measured by standardized tests?

A: Performance and portfolio assessment are two widely accepted alternatives to standardized testing. Performance assessment evaluates the actual work a student produces and also the processes by which it was produced, both individually and collaboratively. Similarly, portfolio assessment focuses on a student’s products and processes of learning as well as their interest in reading and writing, their concept of themselves as readers and writers, and their ability to evaluate their own work and set goals for themselves as learners.

Q: What are the benefits of these two authentic assessments?

A: They are derived from what students are doing daily in the classroom and, rather than narrowing the curriculum (as standardized tests are wont to do), they can broaden it by identifying gaps in classroom curriculum and providing links to new areas of study in which basic skills can be learned, taught and applied to subjects in which the students themselves are personally interested, involved and invested. For students, portfolios can motivate and promote self-assessment and self-understanding, which are important real-world skills. A portfolio offers teachers vital information for diagnosing students’ strengths and weaknesses to help them improve their performance.

Q: What are the drawbacks?

A: Problems in scoring emerge when the portfolios contain different pieces and have diverse purposes. Collections composed of students’ best pieces may not reflect sustainable levels of performance under normal conditions. A lack of standardization in the way portfolio entries are produced and the amount of assistance students receive presents another assessment problem. Those scoring the work must receive adequate training, have access to well-documented scoring rubrics and benchmark or anchor papers, have opportunities to discuss and practice applying the rubric to student responses and must also apply systematic checks before and during the scoring itself to ensure they are consistent in their practices. During early years of implementation, achieving reliable scoring can be a challenge because it occurs simultaneously with the process of achieving consensus on standards and expectations. The time demands of authentic tasks and the special and consistent scoring they require pose technical and practical challenges and most studies have found that performance assessments increase burdens and pressures on teachers and schools.

Q: What is the best way, then, to evaluate students’ progress?

A: Because a student's performance will vary depending on which specific tasks are included on the assessment and due to the time and cost demands of performance assessments, assessment systems must thus rely on a combination of measurements--multiple choice, constructed responses administered in relatively short periods of time and those requiring more extended administration time. The different methods can be used in combination to more accurately reflect students’ progress
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