Home > Uncategorized > My Modest Proposal: Test for Student Understanding Instead of School and Teacher Accountability

My Modest Proposal: Test for Student Understanding Instead of School and Teacher Accountability

Yesterday Diane Ravitch posted a “Modest Proposal” on testing and asked for feedback. She began by posing this question: “Why do our policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels continue to require and enforce annual testing, despite the non-existent benefits?” Her proposal to counter this testing mania was this:

Why not give the tests in the first week of school and use only a test whose results may be returned within a month? Let machines score the standardized questions, and let teachers score the constructed responses. The testing vendor would know that they would be chosen only if they could report the results in a month, in a format that informs teachers what students do and do not know. That way, the teacher can find out where students are as they begin the year and tailor instruction to address the needs of the students.

That way, tests would no longer be high-stakes. They would be expressly designed for diagnostic purposes, to help teachers help students. The results would come too early to misuse the tests to stigmatize students, punish teachers, and close schools. There would be no punishments attached to the tests, but plenty of valuable information to help teachers.

My reaction to her question about why policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels continue to require and enforce annual testing and my own “modest proposal” follow:

Why do legislators and those who elect them want to use standardized tests to measure schools? Because they are relatively cheap, relatively easy to administer, and provide seemingly precise data that can be used to sort and select students and schools in a fashion that is easy to understand. And so schools are using tests designed for accountability of adults instead of tests designed to measure student’s understanding.

It strikes me that teachers could crowd-source formative assessments using social media, formative assessments that would enable them to accomplish what Duane Swacker suggests: “… teacher-made classroom testing and assessments designed to help the students learn where they are in their own learning.” Such tests would be untethered from “grade levels”. These crowd sourced formative assessments would not only promote self-actualization on the part of students but also provide classroom teachers with valuable feedback on how the approaches they are using are work for the specific children in their classroom. Assuming someone with technological expertise would be willing to provide the expertise needed to design this kind of “testing network” without making an unseemly profit, these crowd-sourced tests would be very inexpensive to design and relatively easy to administer. Indeed, these formative assessments might replace the “unit tests” teachers use to measure student performance. The only downside of these assessments— or any formative assessments— is that they could not be used to rate schools.

I believe we have the technological ability to design specially tailored FORMATIVE assessments that would enable students to progress at their own rate in subjects where there are clear hierarchical skills to be mastered. Instead of using SUMMATIVE assessments to hold SCHOOLS and TEACHERS accountable for students achieving specific outcomes based on the artificial construct we call “grade levels” we should use FORMATIVE assessments to “…help students learn where they are in their own learning.” We should let time be the variable and learning be constant instead of the other way around.

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