Tag Archives: testing

Bribing children to take our tests

Bribe

It’s standardized testing season again in American schools. And that means it’s also time for many schools to bribe and punish their children into submission because those tests are ones they don’t want to take.

Over the past couple of decades, the political stakes attached to standardized testing have accelerated greatly. So too have teachers’ and administrators’ concerns about their schools’ scores. As a result, there now exists a staggering range of ‘motivational’ efforts that attempt to get students in a positive mindset about testing. For instance, a search for ‘test prep rally’ on YouTube returns over 250 videos of school plays, lip synced songs, and ‘Slam the Exam’ concerts. On Pinterest and at Teachers Pay Teachers, educators can download and attach to candy over 40 different cute, motivational phrases such as ‘You were MINT to succeed’ or ‘You’re a STARBURST of knowledge’ or ‘It’s CRUNCH time. Show what you know!’ At Minds in Bloom, schools can get tips about costuming, audience participation, songs, dances, cheers, jokes, skits, videos, and slide presentation decks for their own test prep rallies. They also can hire the Morris Brothers to perform original songs and share their testing strategies and stress reduction tips. Or they can tap into the numerous other web sites that will help them implement raffles, revise song lyrics, make posters with test taking tips, and stage Are You Smarter Than Your Teachers? game shows.

More troublesome are the post-test ‘celebrations of learning’ that are available only to certain children. A Colorado school made the news recently for its plans to reward those students who show up for every testing day and ‘try their hardest’ (one can only imagine how that will be measured), despite state laws that allow students to opt out of state testing without penalty. As Alfie Kohn reminded us long ago, the withholding of a reward is most certainly a punishment, particularly in the eyes of young children. Is it kind and sensible for educators to preclude from the fun those children who exercised their legally-protected rights? Similarly, I know of a school in Iowa that kept half a dozen of its eight hundred students back from its trip to the video game / bowling / laser tag center because the principal felt that they hadn’t given their best effort on the state exams. Do you think those students ‘learned their lesson’ and will ‘try harder’ next year? Or will they merely be resentful and see the punishment as just another example of their school’s lack of support for their learning challenges?

The justification in all of these cases is that the tests are ‘important,’ that the schools can face potential penalties for poor performance or lack of participation, and that students need to take the assessments seriously. But how seriously should the students take them? After all, our children don’t get any noticeable, tangible benefits from these exams. It’s not as if they can get the questions afterward, see what they missed, get timely feedback on how they did, and get learning assistance from their teachers. All they receive is a meaningless-to-them set of numbers, bar charts, and percentile rankings 4 to 6 months later, typically in their next year of schooling when it’s much too late to really be helpful. And if they attempt to discuss in any way what the questions were and how they think they should have solved them, they get in trouble for ‘cheating’ or ‘violating test security.’ Moreover, the testing windows are artificial events that get inserted into – and usually disrupt the pacing and flow of – the school year. They also often suck up all of the school computers and Internet bandwidth for weeks on end, taking away technology-enriched learning opportunities.

Let’s face it, these assessments are rarely seen by children as a natural outgrowth of their learning. Instead, they are high pressure, high stress activities that are forced upon them by their school systems. These tests are for adults, plain and simple. And while some students may be eager to please their teachers or ‘help out’ their school, it’s hard to argue with those who weigh differently where they want to place their time, effort, energy, and attention. After all, if we have to bribe or punish our students into taking our exams, that’s probably a sign that we need more meaningful assessments…

What do test prep and student ‘motivation’ efforts look like in your school?

[A modified version of this post is at TrustED under the title, Test prep rallies, ’slam the exam’ concerts, and other testing season follies

Image credit: BRIBE, Alpha Bravo Foxtrot

Why Ohio can’t reduce student testing load

Michael Petrilli said:

Last year, [Ohio] State Superintendent Dick Ross published a report on the testing load in the state’s schools that showed strikingly similar results as the new Council for Great City Schools study. It found that about one-quarter of the testing in the Buckeye State was linked solely to the need for data for teacher evaluations in subjects other than math and reading. To his credit, Ross proposed that districts simply dump those tests. He made a choice, in other words.

Regrettably, the Ohio General Assembly did not go along with his recommendation – but for an understandable reason. Because of Ohio’s federal waiver, Buckeye State districts couldn’t just move to evaluations based on teacher observations and the like. If they had gotten rid of excess tests, they would have had to use reading and math scores to evaluate all teachers – gym teachers, art teachers, the whole crew. This is quite obviously inane, and it demands a change in federal policy.

The Obama administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants fewer tests but isn’t willing to give up on test-based teacher evaluations. Meaning that, alas, it has failed this test.

via http://educationnext.org/if-the-obama-administration-wants-fewer-tests-it-will-have-to-give-up-on-test-based-teacher-evaluations

Michael Bloomberg on testing

Michael Bloomberg

Here are some quotes from Michael Bloomberg about testing students, with my annotations in italics…

  1. “Many companies (including mine) use tests in hiring.” Really? The hiring ’tests’ for your financial software, data, and media company are multiple choice tests of factual recall and procedural regurgitation?
  2. “Students will face tests throughout their life. They must learn to cope with the emotional stress that comes with the experience.” Just curious: Do your workers cry, get stomach aches, or wet themselves when they face emotional stress in your workplace? (like some of our elementary students do at testing time) If so, must be a fun place to work!
  3. “Test-taking is no one’s idea of fun, but it is part of life.” Quick. Name other areas outside of school and college admissions where taking multiple choice exams and writing short, formulaic essays that are graded in 1-2 minutes are a regular part of life.
  4. “In the ultracompetitive global economy, the U.S. is facing a terrible mismatch between high-skill jobs and our labor pool.” How, exactly, do standardized tests of low-level knowledge lead to high-skill jobs? How, exactly, does an emphasis on low-level thinking work foster higher-level thinkers? What’s your theory of action?
  5. “The biggest threat to American might is not any one country or terrorist group. It is our collective unwillingness to confront mediocrity in our schools.” Many of us ARE confronting mediocrity in our schools. We are confronting the mediocrity of our continued emphasis on assessments of low-level thinking work instead of assessments of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and other higher-level skills.
Your thoughts?

Image credit: Wikimedia

The exam sham

Harvard

Mike Crowley said:

Teachers are being judged and schools rated based on test and exam results. How many kids are getting into Yale and Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge, we are perpetually asked. I have yet to be asked, how many of your students go to the college that is right for them? … how many are pursuing their passions? … how many are leading happy, fulfilling lives and believe that the curriculum was relevant to their daily, real-world challenges? No, we rarely ask the right questions.

via http://crowleym.com/2015/06/21/the-exam-sham-onwards-we-blindly-go

Image credit: Harvard, Anne Helmond

Test prep works

Bubble test

Sarah Blaine said:

ten years into private practice, I don’t draw on my two months of intensive bar test prep to advise my clients or manage my work. I don’t rely on essay formulas to craft my briefs, and of course I have never encountered an MBE-style multiple choice question. But the thing is… PMBR and BAR/BRI worked. Test prep works. Test prep taught me to immerse myself in the logic of the test-makers, and how to effectively game the system to achieve my goal: a passing score.

The fact that test prep works is what scares me as a public school parent, because as a parent I know that my child’s standardized test scores tell me virtually nothing about whether she’s actually mastered the academic skills she needs for a successful future.

My two months of bar test prep taught me that mass-produced bar prep can successfully raise scores: my MBE score skyrocketed when I left my inquisitiveness, curiosity, and thoughtfulness at the door, and instead immersed myself completely in the test-makers’ logic. I was willing to engage in two months of intensive test-prep because the stakes were so high: I could have lost my new job for failing the bar. Test prep was a means to an end, and it was an end I wanted (passing the bar so I could begin my career as a litigator at a large law firm), so I was willing to spend (my firm’s) money and my time on the commercial test prep courses. Thankfully, though, our (generally tenured) law school professors focused on preparing us for the practice of law, and not on preparing us for a soon-to-be-forgotten standardized test.

But what will my child gain from devoting 9 of her 13 years of public education to test prep? She might become a genius at immersing herself in the logic of the test makers, but will she learn to write purposefully and well? Will she learn to creatively attack a problem? Will she learn empathy and art appreciation and history and how to work as a member of a team?

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/24/why-its-so-scary-that-test-prep-works

Image credit: Bubble World, Benjamin Chun

Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

There’s no diagnostic value in locked-down summative assessments

Diane Ravitch said:

It’s totally inappropriate to compare opting out of testing to opting out of immunization. One has a scientific basis, the other has none. The tests that kids take today have nothing to do with the tests that we took when we were kids. When we were kids, we took an hour test to see how we did in reading, an hour test to see how we did in math. Children today in third grade are taking eight hours of testing. They’re spending more time taking tests than people taking the bar exam.

Now, when we talk about the results of the test, they come back four to six months later. The kids already have a different teacher. And all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can’t see the item analysis. They can’t see what the kids got wrong. They’re getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids, because there’s no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value.

[It’s as] if you go to a doctor and you say, ‘I have a pain,’ and the doctor says, ‘I’ll get back to you in six months,’ and he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state, but he doesn’t have any medicine for you.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/16/why-the-debate-between-diane-ravitch-and-merryl-tisch-was-remarkable

The magical power of PARCC

Magician ahead sign

Peter Greene said:

[When advocates] come to explain how crucial PARCC testing is for your child’s future, you might try asking some questions:

  • Exactly what is the correspondence between PARCC results and college readiness? Given the precise data, can you tell me what score my eight year old needs to get on the test to be guaranteed at least a 3.75 GPA at college?
  • Does it matter which college he attends, or will test results guarantee he is ready for all colleges?
  • Can you show me the research and data that led you to conclude that Test Result A = College Result X? How exactly do you know that meeting the state’s politically chosen cut score means that my child is prepared to be a college success?
  • Since the PARCC tests math and language, will it still tell me if my child is ready to be a history or music major? How about geology or women’s studies?
  • My daughter plans to be a stay-at-home mom. Can she skip the test? Since that’s her chosen career, is there a portion of the PARCC that tests her lady parts and their ability to make babies?
  • Which section of the PARCC tests a student’s readiness to start a career as a welder? Is it the same part that tests readiness to become a ski instructor, pro football player, or dental assistant?
  • I see that the PARCC will be used to “customize instruction.” Does that mean you’re giving the test tomorrow (because it’a almost November already)? How soon will the teacher get the detailed customizing information– one week? Ten days? How will the PARCC results help my child’s choir director and phys ed teacher customize instruction?

… The PARCC may look like just one more poorly-constructed standardized math and language test, but it is apparently super-duper magical, with the ability to measure every aspect of a child’s education and tell whether the child is ready for college and career, regardless of which college, which major, which career, and which child we are talking about. By looking at your eight year old’s standardized math and language test, we can tell whether she’s on track to be a philosophy major at Harvard or an airline pilot! It’s absolutely magical!

Never has a single standardized test claimed so much magical power with so little actual data to back up its assertions.

via http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/10/parcc-is-magical.html

Image credit: Caution: Magician Ahead!, Kevin Trotman

What’s good about standardized tests?

Susan Berfield said:

Most standardized tests aren’t objective, don’t measure a student’s ability to think, and don’t reliably predict how well a kid will do in the workplace. So what’s good about them? They’re relatively cheap to create, easy to administer, and they yield data.

via http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-12-11/book-review-parents-can-band-together-to-end-standardized-testing

From data to wisdom

Image credit: From data to wisdom, Nick Webb

What testing should do for us

Multiple choice test

John Robinson said:

‘We would like to dethrone measurement from its godly position, to reveal the false god it has been. We want instead to offer measurement a new job – that of helpful servant. We want to use measurement to give us the kind and quality of feedback that supports and welcomes people to step forward with their desire to contribute, to learn, and to achieve.’ – Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

Want to know what’s wrong with testing and accountability today? It’s more about a ‘gotcha game’ than really trying to help teachers improve their craft. Over and over ad nauseam, those pushing these tests talk about using test data to improve teaching and thereby student learning, but that’s not what is happening at all.

via http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2014/08/time-to-dethrone-testing-from-its-godly.html

Image credit: Exams Start… Now, Ryan M.