standardized tests


By Diana Nunnaley, Director, TERC’s Using Data

March Madness annually takes over the country, or at least the media and the minds of U.S. college basketball fans who give itFather and son playing basketball their frenzied attention each spring. At the same time, another March Madness is going on that does not garner the same enthusiasm and  does not make national news in quite the same way. It’s the March Madness going on in schools across the country as teachers and administrators ready for spring, state-initiated student accountability assessments. These tests are considered by some to definitively provide feedback on how much students have learned this year, and correspondingly – how effective their teachers are. (That second-tier “madness” could fill volumes, and I chose to let the pundits continue to hash out that one.) (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

Since the story broke, the media and bloggers have actively covered the details about a recent test-score-fixing fiasco—and the news continues (links provided below). There have been commentaries about who really suffers from a scam of this magnitude (students robbed of remedial opportunities) and who is to blame—their motivations…and their motivators (“…targets were implemented…in such a way that teachers and administrators believed that they had to choose between cheating to meet targets or failing to meet targets and losing their jobs.” Volume 3: Conclusions: Why cheating occurred and cover-up allegations, p. 4). Eraser end of pencil laying on test paper showing bubble answersI’m particularly taken withthe data-made-me do-itexplanation. There’s even talk of legal prosecution. This whole mess feels like a major attraction in a very tawdry sideshow of the school reform circus. And sadly, although the media is focused on one district at the moment, test score and data manipulation is not new news.

Yes, there’s explaining to do, and some one (or many) will need to be held accountable, but wouldn’t it be great if the lion’s share of the energy fueling our collective indignation, disbelief, and need for retribution could be channeled to establishing more positive, long-term improvements to a testing and assessment system that has surely gone awry. I’m not yet so tainted that I can’t believe we (saints and cheaters alike) all really want the same thing: exemplary schools, highly qualified teachers, and well-educated students who are life-long learners ready to succeed in their adult lives.

I weigh in with Diane Ravitch on this one, (more…)

Guest Blogger: Dr. William L. Heller, Using Data Program Director, Teaching Matters*

Data-savvy investigators never make important decisions based on a single source. When teams following the Using Data process believe they may have found a student learning problem, based on their analysis of standardized testing results, they know to confirm the problem through an examination of student work and other common formative assessments. When they do this, it’s important for them to have a norming process in place to ensure that group of people looking at large scoring checklist with multiple scoring options presented and a large red pencil ready to select the right checkboxthe data being generated is reliable and useful.

Norming is the process of calibrating the use of a single set of scoring criteria among multiple scorers. If norming is successful, a particular piece of work should receive the same score regardless of who is scoring it. With the advent of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, we may anticipate that curriculum-embedded performance tasks will begin to gain prominence over traditional multiple-choice tests, and it will be even more important for teachers to be aware of how to make the best use of these assessments. Whether or not they are rigorous about norming can make a very big difference. (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

Shimmering water view Falmouth, Massachusetts

A beautiful morning walk in Falmouth, Massachusetts

A recent weekend wedding celebration on Cape Cod brought together a stirring mix of sapphire shimmering ocean, stunning bride (who I had the joy of watching transform over the years from little girl to accomplished young woman), and satisfying conversation with long-time friends—an enjoyable mix of hilarity, nostalgia, and sometimes serious discourse.

During several early-morning walks with friends connected through our work as educators, the more serious discourse returned time and again to an impassioned discussion about teacher evaluation. This conversation was prompted in particular by a June 4 Washington Post article, Maryland Teacher Evaluation Redesign Bogs Down. We were somewhat stunned to learn two pieces of data: 1) Almost a year ago, Maryland won a $250 million federal grant to build a “transparent and fair” teacher and principal evaluation model that would tie their success to student test scores and learning, and 2) The state is seeking a year’s extension to fully execute the evaluation system it has yet to develop.

“Two-hundred fifty million,” my friend mused. “They could hire 250 people and pay them a million dollars each. With that kind of brain trust you’d think something could be developed in a year.” We laughed, but think about it. (more…)