Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Annual Score Review: Time for Progressive Tests?

Prior to the school year, I typically analyze a host of scores that provide one illustration of individual and collective student achievement.

As I looked over the scores, I thought about last year's program and this year's program to come.

I continue to be somewhat frustrated with the grade-level approach to scores since students who struggle and score many years behind the grade level continue to take tests that are several levels above their skill/knowledge level. These grade level tests provide a steep climb that sometimes results in teaching-to-the-test since teachers feel the pressure to try to move a child up several levels. Teaching-to-the-test generally results in dull teaching rather than an inspiring, engaging program--the kind of program that will truly help a struggling student love learning and persevere.

For example, let's say you're a child that for some reason scores a 1/5 in third grade. That means out of five levels where levels 4 and 5 are considered "grade level," you've scored a 1 which is three levels away from reaching what's considered grade level. Then you move to the next grade, and now according to the tests you're even further behind because to catch up with the previous and next grade standards.

This reminds me of when I used to climb mountains with my family. I was the slowest hiker. I'd work so hard to get up to my family members who would wait for me now and then. As soon as I reached them, ready for a rest, they'd take off and start running up to the next level. I could never catch up. As I look back on this, I realize that allergies had a lot to do with it. I simply couldn't breathe as well as my family members which slowed me down during the woodsy portion of the climb.

Now most of our test takers do catch up by high school--few to none in our system do not pass the high school tests. As students mature and learn about themselves and the academic knowledge, concept, and skill, they are able to meet the requirements of the tests.

I wish the tests would not be tied to grade levels, but instead be a progression of skill, knowledge, and concept. That way your goal would be to keep edging up the the knowledge, concept, and skill trajectory. That would help us to look at a child's growth overall rather than his/her connection to the grade-level. Tests like this would help our students who score at the highest levels too because these students consistently score at the top of the grade level with little room for advancement. In a progressive test, there would essentially be no end as students could just keep learning more and scoring higher.

I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized tests. I don't think that tests should be tied to teachers' performance, but instead tied to an overall school's efforts and progress. I think that the key with tests is to get an overview of the individual student's knowledge, concept, and skill that can be tested as well as an overview of a school's performance. It's one way to assess how students are doing and should be combined with other types of formal and informal assessments to gain a holistic picture of a school's work. We know that successful, happy, contributing citizens didn't necessarily score high on standardized tests, but instead found areas of work and study that inspired them, propelled them forward, and helped them to achieve with strength. We can't forget that as we analyze test scores.

With that in mind as I analyzed the scores, this is what I noticed:
  • One area of attention continues to be students who struggle on these tests. These students typically work with a host of educators, and it's very important that we carefully target our collective efforts to support these children well. Students who struggle with academics demand the best possible teaching and a sensitive holistic approach. Over the years, I have been impressed with these students' long term success, and the one common factor leading to that success, is the steady support, care, and attention from the child's family and educators.
  • Again, time on task matters. Steady learning and practice leads to success.
  • And a solid weekly learning routine that involves feedback and parent communication--the more we can let parents know how students are doing, the more we will gain their support which is integral to helping every child succeed. Also a weekly pattern helps students to keep track of their performance and learning.
  • Match tests to the curriculum. In some cases we have tests that are not well matched to the curriculum and these tests require time and attention that could be focused on the curriculum content instead. 
Fortunately our students do well on tests overall, so the worry is not the same as in schools where most students face challenge with the tests for many varied reasons. 

The yearly review and analysis helps me to gear up for the new year on my own and with colleagues. Our collective attention to this one area of school life helps each of us to continue to support students with past and new successful approaches.