How Can Assessment Support Student Learning?

Most people have taken several forms of standardized testing in our lifetime, and never think anything of it. It is just something you do all the time because people are monitoring your progress. Linda Darling-Hammond, from Stanford University, says Americans are the most “overtested and underexamined in the world” (Comprehensive Assessment). What a crazy thing to think about. As a child, standardized testing was so normal, but as new research shows the vast types of intelligences and differences in learning, how can a teacher say a standardized test, written one way, to produce a four-answer possible solution, tests complete knowledge? The key to providing adequate assessment for students is recognizing the limits of standardized testing and increasing diverse tests and performance assessments that prepare children to think creatively.

Standardized assessments are severely limited in how they test students. Though attempts have been made to make them unbiased and account for diverse populations of students, a simple question with four answer choices does not accurately depict learning. Students are diverse thinkers, with several different intelligences and ways they learn. Standardized tests fail to account for children who have grown up through inadequately funded schools, or in low-income houses. Regardless of these findings, some educators and administrators believe standardized testing is the only way to teach kids.

Michelle Rhee was a DC Chancellor of the school system in Washington D.C. who saw this problem in the school system. Rhee was appointed by the Mayor of Washington D.C. to be a changemaker to turn around a school system with low ratings of achievement. She believed in standardized testing to not just test students in a classroom, but the teachers as well. She put their job on the line for their student’s achievement. She wanted to create a culture of accountability within the school system. She fired 22 teachers the first year after the students weren’t making big enough strides. At the end of the year, the schools with the biggest gains in academic achievement were given monetary incentives ranging from eight thousand to twelve thousand dollars. Though some of these scores went from 8%-42% gain in achievement, it was never investigated. The principal from one of the schools, Noyes High School, which previously had one of the highest gains in achievement before the principal left, saw test scores drop 40% after security measures were in place, showing that some teachers had changed test scores (Frontline).

One thing that was puzzling to me was that the administrators and teachers were rewarded for essentially doing their job. These monetary incentives not only left the door open for cheating, but also was a form of temporary compliance that Alfie Kohn talked about. Alfie Kohn is a critic of reward systems that create a “temporary compliance”. Creating a reward system implies that it isn’t something interesting, and is a form of manipulation (Kohn). He says that the reward of a situation is the learning. He argues this mostly in terms of students and receiving grades for their work, but I think it can also apply to the teachers in Washington D.C. Providing incentives for teachers to do their job, that is currently not increasing student’s achievement scores, further perpetuates the stigma that teaching these kids isn’t interesting.

The other thing that this left open, was teachers who were having trouble were being punished rather than supported. What the tests couldn’t show was that some of the teachers needed training and didn’t have the means of attaining it. One principal remarked that 30% of the teachers in his school needed improvement. Many of the teachers, one council member noted that she knows that almost 50% of the teachers believed that some students can’t learn at high levels (Frontline). Since No Child Let Behind was enacted in 2002, standardized tests have been mandated for all schools. The premise behind it is one of succeeding and providing a measure of college readiness. Since 2002, research in the way students learn has come farther, and laws have yet to be adjusted. This test, which is biased, failed to account in Washington D.C. for the students that had drug addiction and poverty in their own families. It also didn’t account for the teachers needing support and feeling unsuccessful in their classrooms.

One type of assessment that some teachers have utilized is performance assessments. Because standardized tests lack the ability to determine a child’s determination, drive, communication and leadership skills, performance-based projects have become more popular. These tests also solve many of the teaching feedback issues that come with assessments by providing immediate feedback on their students’ comprehension levels. Independent study projects have also been pushed forward as a way to encourage students to learn something personally interesting, while presenting it to teachers to be graded (Comprehensive Assessment). The issue with standardized tests is that they are “short-sighted” and don’t reveal the full picture of the student. One teacher in the Comprehensive Assessment video said,

“A lot of teachers and administrators in their understandable concern about these high-stakes tests are making a mistake when they say ‘Teach to the test. Teach to the test. That’s what we have to do.’ There is no evidence to show that you raise test scores by teaching worse. There is no evidence to show that when you teach for an in-depth robust performance where you have high-quality local assessment that your test scores suffer. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary. High quality local assessment is what we need to pay attention to.” (Comprehensive Assessment)

So the question is this: What assessments would you use as a teacher to help your students learn in their own unique way?

 

 

Comprehensive Assessment: An Overview. (2010, August 05). Retrieved November 10, 2016.

FRONTLINE. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/education-of-michelle-rhee/

G. (2013, September 05). Alfie Kohn on Oprah. Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6wwReKUYmw

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9 thoughts on “How Can Assessment Support Student Learning?

  1. I think you’re so right about the issues with standardized testing — I find the way they, like IQ tests, are culturally and socioeconomically biased especially problematic, alongside the other issues you mentioned. (When I was a student and unaware of the cultural/SES bias, the lack of prompt feedback particularly bothered me.)

    I also liked the point you made combining Alfie Kohn’s ideas with the issue Goldstein raised about cheating on test scores for money: not only does it perpetuate a negative stigma for cheating, but it actually disincentivizes good teaching, just as he says grades disincentivize learning for students, if test score grades can be cheated anyway.

    One of the more depressing things I’ve learned so far is that despite the required PD that teachers have, so many of them can’t get that extra training. According to Goldstein (2014) this is a longstanding problem with the field — even Al Shanker couldn’t get the training he wanted in order to succeed when he was a teacher. And when it comes to teachers buying into deficit thinking, if they can’t get help escaping that, they can actively harm their students’ learning. While there are lots of resources available online, teachers should be able to seek out help and advice in person without risking their jobs.

    Performance and project-based assessments seem like a really good way to assess the “whole child” holistically and make sure they’re fairly graded, while giving them a chance to explain themselves and elaborate on their thinking. However, I’ve also seen an interesting criticism of them; Burke (2013) quoted a teacher who found that the project assessments she created for her students were biased because she herself was biased; she was teaching the students and assessing them according to her strengths, which in a way taught them her own weaknesses, also. Although they mentioned this in semi-defense of standardized testing, I think a better way to overcome that bias without falling prey to the problems inherent in standardized tests would be to work with a teaching partner in the same grade who also knew your students to make sure that the assessments and assignments you created covered all the content/skill bases fairly while being relevant to the students.

    References

    Burke, J. (2013). The English Teacher’s Companion. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Standardized testing has become so, well, standardized because of college entrance exams. In today’s day, you can barely get a job that pays more than minimum wage without a college degree. It has become almost mandatory. There are way more applicants to colleges and universities than are accepted each year and standardized testing is one of the many factors used to determine who is “unfit.” Just the sheer volume of applicants requires universities to come up with some rapid way to disqualify people, otherwise applying to college would take years and the back log would be astronomical. Since the country is now college education driven, it forces schools to be college driven. How else to prepare kids for the standardized test that is to come than to give them standardized testing to practice on? If a school has students only do creative projects and never take a single test in their life, what kind of performance will come of them when they sit for the required SAT or ACT? The problem here is that teaching to standardized tests and funneling students into universities using standardized tests is doing nothing more than creating little robots. That is what the government wants anyway though right? Little robots who are trained to conform so they can be more easily controlled. That’s exactly what standardized tests do is control. They control the teaching. They control the learning. They control the way education is approached. They control the way people think. They control the future.

    http://institute4learning.com/blog/2013/02/28/15-reasons-why-standardized-tests-are-worthless-2/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Erin,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog this week. From what I’ve gathered in this week’s readings is that we are using standardized tests to measure students mastery of content over grade levels, and to hold teachers and schools accountable for their students’ performance on these tests.You mentioned that the standardized assessments we use today are severely limited and do not accurately depict learning. I couldn’t agree more. Further, if these assessments do not accurately depict learning, how can they accurately depict teacher quality and performance?

    There are many factors outside of the school that can contribute to a student’s success in passing standardized tests. The connection between student performance and teacher rankings is very controversial across the United States. In a study by William Mathis, director of The National Education Policy Center, outside of school factors prove to play a larger role in student’s test scores than the quality of their teachers (Murray, 2012). Of course, quality of teachers is an important within-school factor affecting student achievement, however it doesn’t account for more than 15 percent in test score outcomes. Mathis (2012) mentions “Non-school factors, which are generally associated with parental education and wealth, are far more important determinants of students’ test scores”.

    As you mentioned Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the D.C. school system, wanted to create a culture of accountability in the school systems by firing teachers that had underperforming students, and creating incentives for schools that increased test scores. I wonder, what kind of classroom environment do these consequences for teachers and schools create? Teachers are not only losing classroom time for quality instruction to test preparation, but they are also aware that the fate of their student’s test scores will determine whether or not their job is secure. For one, the obsession over improving students test scores is leading to a to a one-size-fits-all curriculum that ignores the individual abilities and needs of diverse students (Strauss, 2014). Also as you mentioned, “standardized tests lack the ability to determine a child’s determination, drive, communication and leadership skills”.

    You asked: What assessments would you use as a teacher to help your students learn in their own unique way?
    I would prefer to administer performance assessments using project-based learning, where work can relate to real life situations. In project based learning, work is more meaningful to students because they are being evaluated on the basis of their projects rather than on narrow rubrics defined by exams, essays, and written reports (Edutopia, 2008).

    Murray, D. (2012). Study: outside of school factors play a larger role in test scores than teachers. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2012/09/study_outside_of_school_factor.html

    Strauss, V. (2014). 11 problems created by the standardized testing obsession. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/22/11-problems-created-by-the-standardized-testing-obsession/

    Edutopia. (2008). Why teach with project-based learning?: providing students with a well-rounded classroom experience. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/project-learning-introduction

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your blog, and I agree standardized tests are limited. Standardized testing may help teachers measure some levels of comprehension, but this type of testing does not measure deep understanding (Roskos & Neuman, 2012). Additionally, high-stakes testing can have disastrous results for people who do not test well. Furthermore, standardized tests only provide a snapshot of student understanding, and these types of tests do not always represent what students do and do not know.

    To increase learning, teachers should check and adjust understanding through formative assessments. Formative assessments help teachers identify gaps so educators can change tactics, reteach, and provide feedback to students. The point of teaching is to ensure students truly learn. Teachers often fail students when they teach students information to pass tests, and teach in ways that only support surface learning and not deep comprehension. Formative assessments provide an important framework that supports both testing and true learning (Yan & Chang, 2015).

    According to Roskos and Neuman (2012), basic learning should be center of all formative assessments and teachers should embed essential skills and concepts into all formative assessments, determine outcome and expectations of learning before designing assessments, and assess students in a learning cultured environment (537). First, teachers should include the basic learning concepts in the assessment. That is, teachers should not assess trivial information before fundamental information. Second, educators should examine essential skills and concept through formative assessments. For example, an English teacher can ask students to retell a story or explain a main theme or plot to determine if students truly comprehend essential concepts. Third, educators should determine expectations before creating formative assessments (Roskos & Neuman, 2012). Very simply, teachers must create clear expectations so they can design assessments that gauge deep understanding. Finally, educators must assess students in environments, which cultivates learning. Teachers should not assess students in places they feel threatened or unable to concentrate. Formative assessments can help students succeed, and teachers should use formative assessments to increase student comprehension.

    Yan, & Cheng. (2015). Primary teachers’ attitudes, intentions and practices regarding formative assessment. Teaching and Teacher Education, 45, 128-136.

    Risko, Victoria J., & Walker-Dalhouse, Doris. (2010). Making the Most of Assessments to Inform Instruction. Reading Teacher, 63(5), 420-422.

    Roskos, Kathleen, & Neuman, Susan B. (2012). Formative Assessment: Simply, No Additives. Reading Teacher, 65(8), 534-538.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Erin, you brought up a good point and a very (in my opinion) flawed characteristic of standardized assessments. Who are these assessments created for and how are the scores created? The answer is pretty obvious (in my opinion, at least): these tests are created for picture perfect, “norm” students in a general education classroom. My education concentration is Deaf Education. When our students are given an exam such as the ACT or STAAR test, it can be completely overwhelming. Not only are many Deaf students ESL learners, but teaching styles in this concentration can be very different from a general education course. But even general education students can have some big issues with standardized assessments. As stated in the Edutopia video “Comprehensive Assessment Research Review,” once these students leave the classroom, get out of high school, go to college or go to work, these situations are not formatted in a standardized test. Having a job interview, leading a project, working with a team – none of these types of abilities ask you to circle a letter or pick the best answer. So is it necessarily appropriate to gauge our children’s learning abilities this way? I believe there are assessments out there that can be beneficial, but I don’t believe that they can 100% tell someone about a student. It is our job as teachers to create a well rounded meaningful assessment throughout the school year to not only engage the learner’s interest but to also see how they are doing.

    Reference:
    Vega, V. (2014, January, 29). Comprehensive assessment research review. Edutopia.org. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/comprehensive-assessment-research

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Erin,

    When you think how many hours and how much time is spent testing students, you have to evaluate the performance of the student. In this module we are shown how can assessment take place in order for students to achieve their potential. Many of us all throughout our childhood were repeatedly tested and tested over again. I myself never was able to pass certain test for example math. Math to me even to this day has been an chilies ankle to me. I’m not blaming any teachers, but I wish it would have been thought a certain way. Standardized testing has shown us that for some students testing can be accomplished, but on the other hand it can prove to be difficult to others. Students educational feature should not be measured on how you perform on a test. There has to be an equal balance to the equation. Educators have to find ways of getting to know their students and what type of learners they are. I believe from this you can make your curriculum that will adapt to every child. Dr. Krutka at the begging on the module says “Assessments should provide a way for students, teachers, parents, and even the public to determine the degree to which students are learning”. I really like the way he puts in context when it comes to the Higher leverage practice situations. In my current class that I’m observing, Mr. Lamon before giving out the test goes back and given an in-depth review of everything that is covered. By the looks of it students are able to grasp and are able to respond back with positive feedback. Really enjoyed reading your blog.

    Louis Ordonez

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Erin! This is a great post. You did a great job discussing the impact assessment has on both students and teachers.

    I work at a tutoring and test prep center and I work with a lot of high schoolers on SAT/ACT prep, and I at least once a session they tell me how frustrated they are with the test and their scores. Most of what we teach them is how to really read the questions to figure out what exactly is asked and figuring out how to choose the best answer. When they start working with us, we take care to explain to them that the SAT and the ACT don’t necessarily test a student’s intelligence, and a quick Google search tells me that both tests have results skewed towards white, able-bodied, neuro-typical students.

    It is easiest to work with my students on the grammar sections of these tests because there is a definitive right and wrong answer; the conventions of standard English are well known and a student can’t really argue with them. But when it comes to reading comprehension, where students must choose the main idea for a passage, the student often has a very solid argument for why their answer is correct over the ‘right’ answer.

    These assessments don’t take into account a student’s creativity or unique perspectives. They conform to the idea that there is only one correct answer. My question for this module is an echo of yours: Our students have diverse backgrounds and experiences, so how can we expect one test to be an appropriate assessment for everyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Erin,

    Thanks for the interesting blog. I will put a different spin on this topic. What if standardized testing does have a proper place in the public schools nowadays? I am old enough to remember a time when Texas did not have a state-wide exam (such as the STAAR, TAKS, TEAMS, or TABS. Back then (1970s and early 80s), too many students were allowed to graduate without basic skills. Several examples made the news in which students were graduating but could not read their diplomas. So standardized testing was to be the answer and hold schools accountable. I think that if we didn’t have a STAAR test right now, many schools would not offer after-school tutoring, Saturday school, or many of the other “extras” that they do now. It wouldn’t matter to the principal or superintendent how many students graduated with a lack of basic skills.

    The way I think it should be is that schools just teach their normal curriculum and, then, when it is time to administer the STAAR, they just administer it. Not all of this prep time. Just teach and then give the test. I think that was the original plan when standardized testing started.

    Thanks again for the interesting blog,
    Stephani Swepston

    Liked by 1 person

  9. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Hi Erin,

    Thanks for the interesting blog. I will put a different spin on this topic. What if standardized testing does have a proper place in the public schools nowadays? I am old enough to remember a time when Texas did not have a state-wide exam (such as the STAAR, TAKS, TEAMS, or TABS. Back then (1970s and early 80s), too many students were allowed to graduate without basic skills. Several examples made the news in which students were graduating but could not read their diplomas. So standardized testing was to be the answer and hold schools accountable. I think that if we didn’t have a STAAR test right now, many schools would not offer after-school tutoring, Saturday school, or many of the other “extras” that they do now. It wouldn’t matter to the principal or superintendent how many students graduated with a lack of basic skills.

    The way I think it should be is that schools just teach their normal curriculum and, then, when it is time to administer the STAAR, they just administer it. Not all of this prep time. Just teach and then give the test. I think that was the original plan when standardized testing started.

    Thanks again for the interesting blog,
    Stephani Swepston

    qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm nnnnnn

    Liked by 1 person

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