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Articles: Testing

Superintendent Jim McIntyre interacts with Knox County elementary school students.

Knox County Schools is a flourishing district in Tennessee, with most of its 15 high schools having graduation rates above 90 percent. Within the last five years, the district has also has also seen modest gains in reading/language arts, math, science, and social studies as measured by the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for grades 3 through 8.

Since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, trying to close the achievement gap has been on every educator’s mind.

Key to that law has been the requirement of measuring achievement through the administration of standardized tests to determine the extent to which schools are making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward that goal.

Some of the school districts adopting online Common Core assessments to measure academic achievement in 2014-2015 plan to develop their own tests.

In a survey released by Enterasys, a company specializing in wireless systems, 42 percent of schools plan to develop their own tests, while 55 percent of schools are likely to work with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

In the aftermath of the nation’s largest standardized test cheating scandal, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall, were criminally indicted for changing student answers on high-stakes state tests.

A new study found that female elementary students perform as well as their male counterparts in a series of math competitions, versus one-shot contests, refuting some previous studies that show females usually lag behind males.

While education research has long suggested that studying second languages in K12 schools boosts student achievement in other content areas, the current testing emphases on mathematics and reading has placed foreign language instruction relatively low on district priority lists. However, a growing body of research indicates that second-language learning should be bumped up significantly, as demonstrated particularly in the following areas.

Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman (center, in red) helps TCCS students celebrate the opening of the school's new location in September.

The Teachers College Community School (TCCS), a university-assisted public pre-K8 school, opened the doors of its new permanent home in West Harlem, N.Y. in September. The school, which initially opened in fall of 2011 in a different location, represents a unique collaboration between the Columbia University Teachers College and the New York City Department of Education to provide a strong public education for members of the community, as well as education training for university students.

According to the “SAT Report on College & Career Readiness” released in September, only 43 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2012 were academically prepared for college by their high school graduation. This number represents the percentage of students who met the SAT benchmark score of 1550. Research shows these students are more likely to enroll in four-year colleges, and have higher first-year college GPAs and higher rates of retention. The class of 2011 also had only 43 percent of SAT takers hit the benchmark.

When it comes to transitioning to the Common Core, this is not the time for hesitation. There is too much at stake and too much to accomplish in the very short time before the 2014-2015 assessments are administered by SMARTER Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Of course, no one wants to hurry into a mistake that would be costly. So what do you do if you haven’t yet put all of the pieces together to transition to the Common Core State Standards?

Project-based learning looks different, and may seem messier, than traditional instruction. Administrators visiting PBL classrooms shouldn’t expect to see orderly rows of students moving through the curriculum together. Instead, they’re likely to find small teams of students working on investigations of open-ended questions. Students should be able to explain what they’re doing and how activities relate to the project goals.

Ask high school juniors at Da Vinci Charter Academy in the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School District, to explain the causes and consequences of war in American history, and you won’t get a rote recitation of dates and places.

Instead, these students are able to demonstrate their learning by screening the preview for a feature film they produced on the conflict in Afghanistan through the eyes of a young American soldier. They can offer highlights of their interviews with Vietnam veterans, which they contributed to the Library of Congress as primary source material.

ACT announced recently it will expand its assessment reach to students across K12. ACT’s “next generation” of assessments, as it is called, will assess students in grades 3 to 12 beginning in 2014 and then expand to include all students, beginning in kindergarten. The plan was met with mixed reviews from those resistant to more testing. However, with the latest 2012 ACT score results, released Aug. 22, revealing that 60 percent of graduates are not prepared for college and careers, the additional assessments seem to have merit.

A De Soto (Ill.) Grade School teacher helps a student with an assignment last fall. Illinois’ standardized test results show that the achievement gap among elementary school students is narrowing.

A friend of mine is in the midst of a yearlong quest to lose 20 pounds before her high school reunion. She starts each day by stepping onto a bathroom scale to measure her progress. The results are not coming as quickly as she would like. Of course, my friend could just stop her daily weigh-ins or convince herself that the scale is of no use in her effort because it isn’t as accurate as it could be. But she knows better. So she continues the slow, tough, unglamorous work of changing her eating and exercise habits to reach her goal.

Resistance to High Stakes Testing Spreads

A rising tide of protest is sweeping across the nation as growing numbers of parents, teachers, administrators and academics take action against high-stakes testing. Instead of test-and-punish policies, which have failed to improve academic performance or equity, the movement is pressing for broader forms of assessment. From Texas to New York and Florida to Washington, reform activists are pressing to reduce the number of standardized exams.

Every time I get a chance to talk to parents, I ask them this question. “What do you most want your children to get out of their school experience?” The answers, by and large, are not surprising.