Friday, March 20, 2009

When Every Test is Important, No Test is Important

Take a look at the car I spotted on my drive home from work the other day. I played chase with it for about two miles before finally getting close enough to snap a picture with my cell phone. Both sides of the car were also filled with bumper stickers, but the driver turned before I could get a chance to capture that as well.

Clearly this person has a lot of strong beliefs. But was his/her method of sharing these beliefs effective?

Actually, no. Until I looked at the picture, I couldn't remember a single bumper sticker on that car. It came across as so abrasive and over-amplified that the messages were immediately overshadowed by the means. These stickers were proclaiming opinions on everything from politics to religion, discrimination to gender rights. When all issues are forced to the front, they are all simultaneously at the end of the line as well.

In New York state, every student has a state assessment for each core content area beginning in 4th grade until they get to high school. Because these assessments are high stakes, teachers undoubtedly stress the importance of each one. That means students listen to someone explain that the next test is “the most important test you will ever take” more than 20 times (including LOTE exams in grade 8) before they get to 9th grade. No wonder test scores stagnate and schools fall below the yellow line (Biggest Loser reference) in the eyes of NCLB.

Where is the happy medium here? I didn't take any message from the car seriously because there were so many. But I also didn't notice any cars with only one bumper sticker. How can we collect accurate benchmark information on our students without overwhelming and devaluing the whole process?
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3 Responses:

Wm Chamberlain said...

Good question. I think a better question is "Why are we doing benchmark testing to begin with?" and "Why should students care when it doesn't effect their grade?" or even "Why do teachers waste instructional time teaching test taking skills when they aren't necessary after students leave school?"

Seriously though, you do make a good point. Besides, too much time and effort is wasted on all testing, not just these high-stakes tests.

Angela said...

I'm wondering why the tests can't simply be treated as a once a year event, not really mentioned at all in the classroom, and shift our emphasis of importance to engaging instruction, rich curricula, and the coaching of critical thinking. I'm thinking it might bring those scores up too.

I agree that it is all more than a bit much. I also feel that the problem isn't inherently about testing. Our perceptions of what it means to "prepare" for tests and what it really takes to "improve scores" are pretty screwy, in my opinion. It doesn't have to be this way......

John said...

The fact that they space these assessments out over the course of the school year causes more tension than it relieves. At any point in the year, every student has a high-stakes test looming just beyond the horizon.