Here We Go Again

Tomorrow my kids will take the first of what I imagine will be many practice exams. Tomorrow, for those keeping track, is one day short of the two week mark of the school year. Before we've even established what we can do as readers and writers, and what good readers and writers do, my students will be tested on their English Language Arts skills. Which sorta begs the question, why?

The answer is simple, and exposes several of the problems with the standardized tests we're using to provide accountability for students, teachers, principals, and well, pretty much everyone. Why are 19 kids, three of whom barely speak English, taking a practice ELA exam seven months before the real test? In part to gather data, I'm sure, on what the students can and cannot do. But, given my students limited abilities the data's usefulness will be equally constrained. So the primary aim isn't assessment, but exposure to the testing format.

What does this say about the tests were using? If we can improve students' scores just by having them take a test they don't understand, over and over again, how valid can that assessment be? This is especially important in light of the supposed gains that Bloomberg, Klein et all have been crowing over as the centerpiece of Bloomberg's education record. Yes, scores have gone up consistently, but ask around and people point to students' growing familiarity with the tests as a major factor. So what we're testing isn't actually understanding of content, but understanding of the test itself.

I had hoped that I wouldn't spend as much time talking about testing this year. I also hoped I wouldn't spend as much time teaching about testing this year. For the sake of my sanity and keeping this blog interesting though, I promise to keep the test griping to a minimal. Deal? Deal.


Ryan said…
does the marked improvement in test scores appear in whatever grade the students first get tested? if so, that seems like it would indicate some sort of improvement in the teaching delivery process, since those students have never been exposed to the tests before. or maybe, year-over-year, teachers just give more practice tests.

if you could show a clean result in first grade or whenever it is, though, you could use that to determine for the rest of teh grades what percentage of improvement was due to test familiarity and what percentage was due to actually learning something.

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