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Drill Down

Posted by on in Assessment
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standardized test

Today was our second of four days testing kids.  Keep in mind that this is only the ninth day of the new school year. 

I know that teachers must have an idea of the abilities and skills of their students in order to proceed with appropriate instruction during the year.  But, with the number of times the computers froze and crashed, with the rising levels of student frustration and burn-out, and with the disruption to the regular school day, exactly how reliable are the results of this round of assessment truly going to be? 

This will probably be viewed as heresy by those teachers and administrators groomed in an era proud of the art of “drilling down” through data, but I’m going to be honest:  Most large-scale assessments are not an accurate assessment of the ability of our children. 

One would think that a person who has been in the profession for more than three decades – fifteen of those years as a school administrator – would be joyfully embracing the overabundant piles of data points gleaned from each onslaught of testing.  But, at the risk of sounding like an old codger, I proudly assert that there are much better ways to know what our students are capable of doing. 

How did my teachers, many moons ago, analyze, evaluate and improve their teaching and my learning?  I am pretty sure that they did not spend a lot of time looking at the scores from our achievement tests – if they even received those results. 

Personally, I stressed more about the teachers’ orders to “fill in each bubble completely” than I did about the test questions and, since I wasted all my time (and my pencil lead) making perfect black marks, I rarely completed a single test.  My parents and I never received any report about my scores which would, by today’s standards, brand me with a “Falls Far Below” or “Minimally Proficient” label.  Yet, I was placed in honors classes, given challenging, higher-level assignments and inducted into the National Honor Society. 

How were those decisions made?  More than likely, my teachers were expected to “know” their students as learners.  They most certainly kept daily records of our leaps and bounds as well as our slips and falls.  They conducted daily formal and informal assessments – homework, quizzes, projects, questioning, small group instruction, constant observation, and conversations with their students. 

They did not rely on one elaborate test that spit out chunks of data about a student’s performance for one day.  They realized that every child has “up” days and “down” days and that assessment of that child needs to be an aggregate of the many pieces of information from many varied forms of assessment over many days.  They realized that there are things in a child’s life that can affect that child’s success rate on any given day including sickness, family strife, hunger, fear, lack of sleep, abuse, neglect, anxiety, and so much more. 

During my career, I have administered many different achievement tests – the California Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Terra Nova, the Gates-MacGinitie, the ASAP, the AIMS, and now the AzMerit.  Every few years, something newer (and cheaper) has come along, and the teachers and their young charges have been forced to adapt and perform. 

But the scores of those tests were rarely shared with the teachers and those young charges. 

When I first became a school administrator, I worked at a school where I had previously taught.  As I set up my office, I discovered a file cabinet and a large box holding massive amounts of test results thrown together in no apparent order.  I found deep in the mess the results of the students I had taught four years previously who were now beginning high school.  Unfortunately, that data had not been provided to me or any of the subsequent teachers for those kids. 

And yet, we were quite able to assess the learning of our students – because we were doing it EVERY DAY. 

I am not proposing that we completely abolish our testing process.  After all, we do receive some insight – albeit limited insight – into the minds of our students, and the test publishers in far-off cities do need to put food on the tables for their own children. 

But we need to, as a professional group of people, start trusting our teachers to do what they know is right, what they know works to assess and then help their students to be successful learners.  In addition, we need to trust the reports of last year’s teachers as valuable “data”- more so than the results of an instrument administered the second week of school and hampered by multiple computer issues, telephone calls, and a fire-drill. 

I am not working in an oil field.  I did not train to “drill down.”  I was trained to watch over and to build up. 

We must return to common sense.  We must respect the intelligence and intentions of our teachers.  We must intelligently assess with good judgment and compassion. 

We must do what is best for our children.

 

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.

 

 

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in six Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received several first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Sunday, 21 July 2019