Anti-Standardized Testing Pushback Against Formative On-line Assessments MAY be Misguided
All computerized testing is not equal… and my suspicion is that some parental pushback against the formative on-line testing may well be misguided. Yesterday, Valerie Strauss turned her Washington Post blog over to Lisa Guisbond, a testing reform analyst at FairTest, who decries the “…new standardized testing craze” that his hitting public schools. FairTest’s “Fact Sheet” on this craze describes formative on-line testing as follows:
Education policymakers and technology providers have joined forces to accelerate a longtime push for “test data-driven” education interventions. Both sectors look to computer-based curricula and data collected with online tests to control classrooms and define educational outcomes.
Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.
As a first year teacher who taught (or attempted to teach) urban 8th grade students basic mathematics skills in the early 1970s, I would have loved having a computerized testing program that allowed students to progress at their own pace without me having to spend hours on end grading quizzes and tests I administered to them. Because the skill level of the students I was assigned was far below the text books I was given, I ended up writing a self-paced “text-book” for one section that consisted of 40+ ditto sheets and handing it out and collecting it daily in class. The “text-book” sprinkled cartoons of me hand-drawn by my artist-wife and little narratives that incorporated lyrics from songs that were popular at the time. I had a packet of worksheets that corresponded to the work in the booklet. The deal was this: if the students worked diligently on the packet during class and did one or two worksheets at home they would get a “B” and if they did more worksheets at home they’d get an A. I used this to good effect in Spring of my first year and hoped to expand on it over the summer… only to learn that I would be assigned to teach a “Computer Course” in my second year because I had taken one computer programming course as an undergraduate.
Here’s what I learned from my 8+ week experience using these worksheets with a group of students who had not learned basic math skills by 8th grade:
- They had heard for 7 years that they were terrible in math and believed it.
- Their teachers “covered” the mismatched curriculum for seven years and often failed the students because their skills were “deficient”
- I spent far more time preparing materials for class and far less time grading quizzes
- I spent less time on classroom management and far more time working one-to-one with students
- I could have spent even more time outside of the classroom reviewing each students performance if I had a Khan-academy-like program for the students to progress through
And here’s concerns me as a technologically literate administrator who wants to see more computer-assisted learning: the anti-“standardized testing” obsession might lead to pushback against on-line formative tests that could be more engaging than whole group instruction, free up teachers to do more analysis of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide more insightful data on students than we have traditionally gathered with the kinds of teacher-developed assessments.
I believe more individualization is a good thing. It should free teachers from menial grading of quizzes and provide them with time to meaningfully examine the quiz results, allow students to experience success by moving at their own rate instead of a normed rate (which necessarily means a 50% failure rate), and provide time for intentional group interaction discussing mathematical applications to the real world once students master fundamental skills.
Those who decry the replacement of teacher graded paperwork with computer-graded paperwork are overlooking the reality that a lot of classwork and homework is based on the need for repeated practice of low-level skills, and asking teachers to grade these low-level activities is a waste of their time and talent. Better to have a computer perform that function so that teachers can be freed to interact directly with children who hit a roadblock.