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Why State Tests Need to be Field Tested

April 30, 2013

In the early 1990s I served on the Maryland State High School Assessment Steering Committee representing the Superintendents in the State. While my technical knowledge was limited in comparison to the committee members with backgrounds in statistics, I did possess a practical, political and operational expertise that the committee members listened to and respected.  As noted in an earlier blog post, Dr. Nancy Grasmick, who was the State Superintendent, supported and advocated for the perspective of Superintendents at the Board level and in the legislature. The MSSP assessments the state used were thoughtfully and democratically conceived and rolled out over at least a two year period with at least one administration of the test completed without the public release of data. This method was followed because the Superintendents explained to Dr. Grasmick that the administration of tests and the tests themselves would likely have glitches and teachers needed to give the test once to get a sense of the content and how students would react. While some of us resented the intrusion of testing on our time and even after the pilot there were some embarrassingly bad questions on tests, no one could claim they were blindsided.

Diane Ravitch’s blog had a link to an article reporting that Indiana, a state who rushed headlong into computer assisted instruction, encountered a few bumps in the road.

Multiple Indiana school districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools and South Bend Community Schools, suspended ISTEP+ testing for the day after students experienced problems with the testing website.

StateImpact confirmed with representatives at MSD Wayne Township, Brownsburg Community Schools and Culver Community Schools that students there won’t continue testing today. A representative of Fort Wayne Community Schools confirmed the district’s schools are “having issues” with testing.

The problem is likely more widespread, though. Messages on an email listserv of school technology directors suggests the problem spans the state, and reports from Twitter suggest other schools are halting administration of the test too.

This wouldn’t be a problem or be newsworthy if Indiana was doing this first-time use of computerized testing as a pilot and wouldn’t be national news if Indiana wasn’t planning to use these tests to evaluate teachers or schools. But it seems that Indiana is not the only state having difficulty implementing a high stakes test without doing the field tests. Over the past week I’ve read several articles on NY, MI, and MN where new tests have been questioned and/or run into implementation problems. I know the argument that “reformers” will make: the need for change is urgent and every year we wait to get these tests “just right” is a wasted year in the life of a child… but how many years are we willing to waste preparing students for poorly conceived and poorly administered tests? Better to wait a year than waste several… and it would be far better to abandon these state level summative assessments altogether and work on formative assessments that can be used for measuring mastery.

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