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The Testing Question
Posted on 09/24/2015
- Testing is part of life. Think on this. If you are an educator, you likely had to take a test for certification. It’s somewhat painful for me to think of the amount of money I have spent on my various certifications, but I won’t get into that here. Though I passed my tests, my certifications don’t mean that I’ve arrived as a teacher. Rather, they were one of the first steps in my professional journey. To paraphrase The Great Debaters, I had to do what I had to do, to do what I want to do. One step along the journey. But, it’s not only there for teachers - in fact, there are many other professions where tests feature more prominently. But, always, it’s what people need to do in order to do what they want to do. Ever pass a driving test? Same thing. Not all test-passers are brilliant drivers, but it’s a pre-requisite.
- Accountability matters. I am a proponent of standards. Let me clarify - I am a proponent of standards, but not of standardizing the ways in which we meet the demands of the standards. I believe in creativity, inquiry, and personalized learning pathways for students. I believe in competency-based instruction and assessment and believe that students should have choice in their learning experiences. I believe that we should do all we can to ensure that students have access to real-world experiences. I believe that the standards are not the curriculum, and neither is a textbook. I believe that there should be some reason for the work designed for and expected of students - a rationale that makes sense and points to some larger learning goal. So, with creative and authentic design should come a mechanism by which we can measure the outcomes and the success of our work. That said...
- Not all tests are created equal. I was in Washington, DC last week for the National Private Schools Conference, and the keynote speaker addressed the issues around our culture of testing. At one point, he distinguished between norm and criterion-referenced tests, and this was an aha moment for me. Within LSA member schools, a variety of tests are used: Terra Nova, ACT Aspire, SAT II, AP, NYS Regents, NYS Common Core Assessments. All have their place, but it’s important to understand and acknowledge the type of test each is, and to bear that in mind as decisions are made around testing. Get to know the test, consider the items, and be clear on the kinds of information provided.
- It’s all about how the tests are used. Above all, this is key. While accountability matters, the central concern of a school should be the success of its students. When selecting the tools to be used, I believe it’s critical to plan for the use of the resulting data. Consider the following:
- What goals do you have for testing? If your goal is to provide a summative report of student performance, use it for that. If your goal is to use the data formatively, be sure that the results are provided within the timeline necessary for such use to occur.
- Given those goals, what kind of training will the teachers need?
- Given those goals, what message will need to be conveyed to students and parents regarding the function of the tests?
- How does testing fit with your mission? How might you communicate this within your school community?
- Where do students go after they leave you? What is the expectation of these institutions? We can’t ignore the need for students to leave prepared, in all areas. Just don’t make assumptions about these expectations - call around, ask about alternatives, and research completely.