Thursday, December 17, 2009

High Stakes Testing: Use But Do Not Abuse

High Stakes Testing: Use But Do Not Abuse
Maryann Chaudhry

We are presently living in an age of increased accountability on the part of schools for student learning outcomes. Educators have a set of Core Content Curriculum Standards that must be followed in the teaching/learning process. These are a means by which policy makers want to ensure that students are learning and schools are doing their jobs. The manner by which the state has enforced that we accomplish this is by administering the NJ ASK, GEPA, and HSPA to measure achievement based on specific criteria. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with having a measure to gage student learning, but as with all testing, it needs to be done responsibly. Preferably, multiple measures need to be employed to establish a complete and balanced measure of student learning.
Standardized testing that is conducted appropriately should improve teaching processes and enhance student outcomes. A number of professional development opportunities would manifest themselves for schools that require assistance for helping student’s meet the established state averages on tests. As long as educators are open to these, I see this as advantageous. As a proponent of inclusive practices for students with special needs, I would offer that holding educators accountable would be a positive thing if teachers feel called to the mission of helping students become the most productive that they can be.
There are certainly drawbacks to highs takes testing. When interpreting results, educators and policy-makers should consider student exposure to curriculum. We know that curriculum differ between districts. We cannot allow students to be kept out of enriched educational experiences or even be retained because they happen to live in an area that has a different curricular focus. Unless high stakes results are used as one of several measures by which we gauge success, we may never close the achievement gap that exists between classes, races, etc.
Test developers need to redefine their understanding of special education. As it is right now, students with special needs are entitled to certain modifications for the state tests that ensure fairness and sensitivity to the needs associated with their disabilities. Certain students may need different modifications than the ones deemed acceptable by the state. If a testing scenario does not closely resemble the student’s learning experiences and day to day activities, how could it be perceived as a truly authentic measure of progress? Also, all students learn at different rates, and in different styles. A “one size fits all” approach as the sole measure for making high stakes decisions, is unethical and immoral. Unless we apply practices for measuring student outcomes that are aligned with the core democratic values and understandings that we are espousing to believe as citizens and policy-makers, our intentions are skewed. Without a balanced approach to testing, testing practices and administrative competencies are seriously flawed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Understanding the Sanctions Implemented by Adequate Yearly Progress

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) developed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was devised to hold schools accountable for providing students with an appropriate education that is filled with challenging and rewarding experiences. AYP was designed to measure a school’s annual progress. Students in grades third through eight are tested yearly in reading/language arts and math, while students in high school are tested once throughout their four years. The objective of testing children is to determine if they are performing at the state’s standards. Parents receive information yearly regarding the public school their children attend. This information informs the parents how the school is progressing as a whole.
Schools accepting Title I funds must obey the laws set forth by the NCLB and AYP. Schools whom students do not meet the AYP standards face sanctions aimed to help the school improve the next year. Schools that do not meet AYP standards are required to inform their parents. Schools that fail to reach AYP standards two years in a row face harsher sanctions. These schools are labeled as needing improvement and enter level one of AYP. Within three months of notification from the state, schools must develop an improvement plan. Schools that fail to achieve AYP for a third consecutive year must make auxiliary educational services available and penetrate level two of AYP. In addition, are entitled to send their children to a different school within the district. Furthermore, the school district is required to take action if it is determined by the end of the first year of identification the school continues to fail in their attempts of making AYP. At this point the school district is obligated to utilize percentages of Title I money in certain areas. Level three of AYP consists of a school not achieving AYP standards over a four year period. Level three requires the school to identify a corrective action plan. These actions can encompass the replacement of school staff, implementation of a new curriculum, utilization of outside experts, extended school year/school day, and/or restructure of the internal organization of the school. AYP sanctions continue to affect schools who fail for a fifth year. AYP level four is considered the restructuring statute. The restructuring statute occurs during the fifth year whereupon the district faces sanctions that could include the state making plans to take over the school. At this point the school may open as a public charter school instead of a public school. Finally, by the six year schools continue to implement a new restructuring plan.
The goal in AYP is not to complicate the educational system, but to improve the system so every school operates as an excelling institution. While NCLB and AYP receive immense criticism, the main concept remains. Constructive criticism is imperative for improvement. Educators need to remember NCLB and AYP are designed to benefit the future citizens of America.
Dr. Dugan’s class lesson

Seven Solutions to NCLB’s Problems:

Participants in this class will become future school leaders, whether intending to be or not; whether changing their position from teaching to administration or not. Very soon, they might be called upon for their expertise, as modifications to the No Child Left Behind mandates are sought.

The list below is a start. Most of these ideas come from the writings of W. James Popham in his book America's "Failing" Schools.

1. Change the evaluation Process:
a. Evaluate the school and use positives
b. Evaluate values
c. Evaluate affect (e.g., use of Psychometric Testing)
d. Evaluate sample work
e. Evaluate all content areas
f. Use teacher observations and anecdotal information
g. Measure the child against himself/herself (e.g., when the state opts for the Growth Model Pilot)

2. Reduce or prioritize standards

3. Add an item analysis to standardized tests

4. Use alternative assessments

5. Emphasize professional development

6. Reduce class sizes at the primary levels

7. Teach to the child’s strengths

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nation's Report Card

National Assessment of Educational Progress

NAEP testing is based on a subject-specific framework that covers subject specific content and thinking skills that are necessary for students to have in and outside of the classroom. The content of the NAEP tests must be flexible enough that they can be changed in response to changes made to educational curriculum. In addition, the assessments must be future-focused and balance what teachers are currently doing with what research suggests are the best practices.

NAEP provides a common “yardstick” that allows us to measure how the nation’s students are performing in different subject areas. The assessments also allows us to see how student performance has changed over time and allows comparison amongst other states in America. In order to be a comparable measure, NAEP testing is based on a representative sample of students. In other words, not every student in America will complete this assessment. NAEP selects the fewest possible schools and students that will provide an accurate picture of a state or the nation. That makes it very important that all of the students within the selected schools take part in the assessment to provide an accurate reflection of how they compare to other schools with similar geographic location, minority enrollment, and other similar characteristics.

Although NAEP tests allow comparison amongst the states, they are not the same as individual state assessments. State tests measure performance within their own states standards according to what they consider is and is not important for their students to know. State tastes can allow for monitoring of progress over time but not as a benchmark or comparable unit of measure nationwide.

NAEP results are reported as scaled scores and achievement score. Scaled scores are derived from the overall level of performance of groups of students on assessment items. NAEP subject area average scale scores are typically expressed on a 0–500 for reading, mathematics, history, and geography or 0–300 for science, writing, and civics. When used in conjunction with interpretive aids, such as item maps, average scores provide information about what a particular aggregate of students in the population knows and can do.

NAEP assessments may be favored because they do not require teachers to teach to the test or provide incentives to teachers who do so since there are not individual scores reported for students, teachers, or schools. In addition, the assessment requires 90 minutes of testing time and can be administered within the classroom setting. The obvious disadvantage pointed out by many critics is that the test items lack instructional validity, where the items must be based on objectives which are taught to every student.

Kimberly Green

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Psychometric Testing

By Shahed

Psychometric testing refers to the field of study concerning educational and psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of personality traits, abilities, attitudes, and knowledge. The field revolves around the construction of instruments and procedures and the improvement of theoretical approaches to measurement. Measurement instruments include tests and questionnaires, and most psychometric tests assess cognitive ability or test personality. Some popular examples include the Stanford-Binet IQ test, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Psychometric testing has often been designed to select and recruit individuals. In terms of employment, research shows that job performance relates strongly to high cognitive ability. Personality tests have been used to see if a candidate is a good match for the organization. These types of tests assess for factors such as extraversion, introversion, reliability, motivation, and so forth. According to a recent poll, over 90% of employers use some sort of psychometric testing to recruit employees. In education, psychometric testing is frequently used as part of student assessment. In fact, IQ tests are used along with other measures to determine whether a student needs special education or should be placed in the gifted/talented program.
Since psychometric testing plays an important part in the selection and recruitment of employees and a crucial role in student placement, it’s natural to question the accuracy of these tools. Three things to look for are reliability, validity, and test standardization. Reliability means that the test provides consistent results over repeated tests. Validity refers to whether the test measures what it was intended to measure. Test standardization ensures that the conditions are as similar as possible for all individuals taking the test.
To ensure reliability and test standardization, individuals giving out psychometric tests need to be properly trained. Organizations, especially larger ones, train human resources departments to use these types of measurements for recruitment. In education, school psychologists are the ones who receive extensive training in using IQ tests. I am now being trained through Rowan to give out IQ test to students. I find it difficult to provide reliable results and consistent test environments for all students. This will improve in time, but I think regardless of the administrator’s experience, there will continue to be some degree of error. In terms of validity, some factors that affect it include social desirability and culture bias. Social desirability has been identified as the tendency for individuals to alter their answers to impress management or the tendency to alter answers to simply present themselves in a more positive way. In terms of culture, there has been extensive research addressing whether questions on the IQ tests are culturally-bias.
I believe psychometric testing should be used with caution. I consider it a quick, helpful tool in selection and recruitment. You can use a computer to score the test and a formal interview process may not even be needed as a result. I also believe that it provides less bias in the selection process. In fact, the administrator judges the employees’ cognitive ability and personality through a standardized test without using his own judgment. School psychologists use the IQ test to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. I don’t believe that an IQ test should be the single measurement used to determine a child’s ability. In other words, a child should not be placed in a specific curriculum based on one score on one test. However, I do think that it provides an unbiased tool for assessment. Teacher and parental observations are used to determine a child’s strengths and weaknesses – a psychometric test prevents personal bias in the assessment process.

High Stakes Testing: Are the stakes too high?

Educators agree that there needs to be a form of assessment to evaluate if students are learning and progressing academically and developmentally. The debate over what form that assessment should take has been on going. Currently schools are using high stakes testing to assess their students and also to report at the state and federal level if their students are progressing. High stakes testing has been receiving negative reviews for many reasons.

High-stakes testing affects the curriculum being taught in schools, it affects how teachers teach their students, and usually affects how much meaningful learning takes place in a classroom. It is a common misconception that what is taught in a classroom and what is tested are the same thing. It is also wrongly thought that what is tested is what is taught in the classroom. Unfortunately, what students are tested on, don't always match up with the instructional content and objectives of the classroom. This is what is known as "testing-teaching mismatches". In a study done at Michigan State University almost 20 years ago, researchers found that as many as 50% of the items on a nationally standardized achievement test may cover topics that students wouldn't cover in the classroom. This disconnect between what the standardized tests are assessing and what the curriculum assesses needs to be cohesive in order for students to learn effectively.

When students are given a test, teachers often know beforehand what is going to be on that test or they have some kind of general idea of the concepts to be covered. They obviously want their students to do well, so they spend a lot of time covering those topics that are on the test. This is called "teaching to the test". This isn't so bad, but becomes a problem when teachers are forced to discard other topics they had planned on covering in order to spend more time on the concepts they know will be on the test. There is so much accountability for low-test scores that teachers do everything in their power to raise them. They drill students on what they will be tested on and they go beyond the curriculum only to teach test-taking skills, or what is called "testwiseness". When the curriculum is narrowed in such a fashion, students obviously lose out on a rich and full education.

Most standardized tests are multiple-choice. This focus on multiple-choice format limits teaching and learning to knowledge, at the expense of skills and abilities, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving. If we continually encourage students to think in an "A,B,C, or D-None of the above" manner, they will never go beyond Piaget's Concrete Operational Thought into Higher-level thinking.

High stakes tests do not take into consideration the students with diverse backgrounds. Students with disabilities, test anxiety, non-English speakers, are culturally diverse, and of low socio-economic status struggle with these high-stakes tests. High-stakes tests are biased against all students. Test creators pick items for a test that will create score spread instead of items that measure something students are actually or should be taught. Most standardized tests are designed so that only half of the students taking the test will respond correctly to most of the items.

The behaviorist theory underlying high-stakes accountability oversimplifies how human behavior is conditioned by rewards and punishments. Decades of research has shown that extrinsic sources of motivation such as stars, stickers and grades actually undermine natural curiosity and a student's enjoyment of learning. Punitive consequences achieve temporary compliance at the cost of demoralizing teachers and students. The fundamental criticism of high-stakes accountability systems is that they rely excessively on extrinsic motivation at the expense of intrinsic motivation. Some of the negative consequences of high-stakes accountability systems include higher dropout and retention rates, lower motivation, teaching to the test, unethical test preparation, etc. Some reports of gains have been discredited as test-polluting practices such as excluding students or higher dropout rates.

High stakes testing have an obvious negative effect on students, teachers, curriculum, and schools. With all of the advances in technology today, there should also be advances in how was assess our students. I understand that there needs to be a way to make students, teachers, and parents accountable for their education and progress, but I do not believe that high stakes tests is the way to accomplish this goal. I do not have an alternative answer, let’s hope that new educators and test creators will create an assessment that matches curriculum and core content standards so that our students can prepare for the tests of life, not a life full of tests.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Chelsea Potts

Adequate Yearly Progress

Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is a series of annual academic performance goals specified for each school, and the state as a whole. If the goals are met and/or exceeded, the school is considered to have met AYP for that year. AYP is required under the Title I Act of No Child Left Behind(NCLB), which is the program that helps to educate low income children. The primary goal is for all students to be proficient in language and math by 2014, according to state assessments. Those schools that do not meet these criteria two years running are considered high priority, and overall, are not achieving academic progress.
One of the obvious benefits of AYP is that it is holding schools accountable to provide the best possible education for students. Educational expectations, in the form of standards, are established as objectives and schools are meant to meet them to be considered academically successful. AYP provides a mechanism for identifying and helping schools that need help, based upon these fixed criteria. As a school’s primary objective is the success of its students, AYP is a way to make sure schools are on the ball working toward this goal. As AYP has been put in place to help lower achieving schools, it is serving to decrease the achievement gap. Many minorities are in schools that are potentially considered high priority. Having a system in place to identify and remedy these schools and increase the students’ success is serving to level the playing field, so to speak. Also, parents are informed of AYP and their school’s success rate. This gives parents and the community at large a better understanding of how their school rates nationally, and could involve them in potential reforms.
AYP, and the NCLB Act overall, have considerably more critics than supporters. First of all, AYP simply identifies the schools that need help. If these schools do not make AYP two years consecutively, they start a process that can take up to 7 years, depending on if they keep missing AYP, to put into place a plan for restructuring. It can be an incredibly slow process. These standards and assessments, developed to measure AYP, are the single accountability system for a school to track performance. We are always taught that you should not base your diagnosis on one form of assessments, and a wide variety is needed to get the entire picture. AYP is based upon the one assessment, and either a school makes it or does not. AYP is measuring a school or district’s proficiency. They developed one type of assessment, and it is distributed to all learners, regardless of their background. All subgroups are assessed the same way, which is unfair, considering some are clearly more disadvantaged than others. Additionally, if schools do not make AYP two consecutive years, regardless if there have been improvements made, they have to face the sanctions. Schools are also feeling pressured; the deadline for proficiency assessed by AYP is 2014, which is right around the corner. It is not realistic to expect that every school, and every subgroup within each school, will make AYP while utilizing the assessments we are currently using. The idea behind AYP is a good one; it is serving to make schools responsible for giving each student the education that they deserve, and if they can’t, providing the tools for them to do so. However, AYP is a signaling system; it is bringing to light the schools that require improvement and the existing achievement gaps. The data provided by AYP is what improvements are based on, and until these assessments are made fair, the real improvement is still out of reach.
“The ABCs of AYP: Raising Achievement for All Students”, Education Trust, Spring
“Stronger Accountability: Adequate Yearly Progress”, U.S. Department of Education,

Friday, December 4, 2009

Closing the Achievement Gap

Closing the Achievement Gap

Rachel Grizer

The achievement gap has been a difficult issue for many years and under constant debate about where the discrepancy truly lies. The achievement gap has been defined as a significant difference in academic performance between students from different economic, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. For reasons that have remained unknown, students of minority backgrounds, including African American, Hispanic, and Asian, seem to be at a disadvantage and do not perform as well as students who are not from a minority background. A similar academic disparity also exists between students from low-income and well-off families. The achievement gap becomes apparent in grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college-completion rates.

Many reasons have been suggested for this discrepancy, including a lack of resources, lack of parental involvement, race, and socioeconomic status; however, it is still not certain which, if any, of these reasons is truly the cause of this gap. On page 586 of The Achievement Gap: Myths and Reality, Singham (2003) states, “There are no genetic or other immutable traits that could conceivably be the cause of the gap. Thus the problem is manifestly one that can and should be solved.” The Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, found that many minority students attend inner-city schools, which are often underfunded and tend to receive poorer-quality instruction, have fewer high-caliber teachers, and have access to fewer resources (The Education Trust, 2002). This could play a large role in why these students do not perform as well as students who do have the resources to help them improve.

School districts have been trying to close the achievement gap between Caucasian students and African-American and Hispanic students for many years. Many schools have started after-school tutoring sessions and remedial programs to help minority students perform better academically. However, for the gap to actually narrow minority students must learn at an extremely fast pace in order to “catch-up” with their white peers. Other schools have started “de-tracking” their students or tracking by ability groups to provide the same quality education for all students, regardless of race. By de-tracking schools, students are more likely to have equally qualified teachers, expectations, curriculum, and resources. Abbott District funding is also being implemented in many New Jersey schools that give funds to the lowest performing schools in the lowest socioeconomic areas of the state. This law allows these districts to gain access to better supplies, materials, teachers, and other resources that can help the students gain a better education.

In the article, The Achievement Gap: Myths and Reality, Singham mentions a study conducted by Alan Schoenfeld in Pittsburgh. This study analyzed students performance in schools that had teachers who were considered to be “strong implementers” and schools that had teachers who were “weak implementers.” These schools initiated a new form of curriculum that focused on standards-based education. The results of this study showed that all students greatly improved in the “strong implementation” schools and the “weak implementation” schools. Not only did all students improve in these schools, but minority students’ performance significantly increased contributing to a narrowing of the achievement gap. This study reveals that it is possible to narrow the achievement gap through educational measures that address all students in general.

The achievement gap in this country is a serious issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Parents need to become more involved in their child’s schooling, school districts need to provide the tools and resources needed for students to learn and grow, and children of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds need to be given the opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability.