Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More testing coming

More standardized testing is in the works for my school next year. According to an area representative, Ron Huberman has directed the areas to produce assessments every five weeks (seven times over the school year) for grades 3 - 8 for "performance management" tracking. Areas are free to select an assessment from a list of nine vendors approved at a Board of Education meeting last June.

The Chicago Benchmark Assessment, done three times last year, is optional, and our area will not be requiring that.

In addition, because my school is on academic probation for low test scores, my school is being assigned a "performance management" representative from central office to work with our school to assist with required monthly school-based performance management reviews, and using the assessment data to (ideally) identify problem areas and strategies.

For our new 5-week assessments, we will be using an online test from Riverside Publishing, the authors of the Iowa Test for Basic Skills once used district-wide by CPS. Riverside was chosen because they have a lot of Spanish language test materials, and my area mostly covers the heavily Hispanic Little Village area, and a little bit of North Lawndale assigned to it when Area 8 was dissolved last year.

For grades 3 - 8, we will do online Scantron during the month of September (reading, math and science), Riverside (math and reading) in October and November, December, January, and Scantron again in January, ISAT (math and reading, science 4th and 7th only, writing is cancelled this year because of money) in early March, Riverside again in March, April and May, and Scantron again in May.

The Riverside tests will be done online. Students will need to do a reading and math test, and each test will last about 45 minutes. We will have a 3-day window (I think that is correct) to do the tests.

On the plus side, teachers will have immediate results. On the negative side, each test session which will require computer cart or lab time, meaning a technology support person for each test, at least to get things started, and be available to deal with the inevitable technical issues. Paper based assessments could be done simultaneously in all classrooms, online is strung out depending on technology and people resources. Scantron has been its own headache, and it has a three week window. Logistically, Riverside in three days is possible, but it will mean a lot of running around.

The Benchmark Assessment had the nice advantage of letting teaches keep the test booklet, or view the actual questions via CIM, CPS's online student test data tracking tool. This allowed teachers, if they had the time, to try to figure out why students got an answer wrong. (It turns out, from my observation, that, for math anyway, a lot of the problems stem from reading comprehension issues, or getting tripped up by misleading pr ambiguous questions, or problems with familiar words used in unfamiliar math contexts -- e.g., "the net of a cube".)

My understanding of Riverside is that we can see and use other questions from their item pool, but it's not clear if we can see the actual questions and responses from a particular assessment.

Besides the logistical problems of administering the tests, other issues include: the out-of-pocket cost to CPS of the tests, the opportunity cost of teacher and staff time administering the tests, and teacher time making sense of the data on top of all of the other regular (and more informative) classroom assessments, and the cost of lost instruction time for students.

An even bigger question is whether the tests will tell anyone anything useful. As I think I may have said before, testing students is not the same as taking their temperature. Students resist their test-heavy regime. They will resist Riverside to, spoiling the results.

Even if test scores accurately reflected student ability (which occurs only in some cases, skewed by demographics, prior academic success, breakfast, and many other factors), changes in student performance across tests given five-week weeks apart are statistically suspect. Scantron, e.g. will not produce gains reports for for tests given less than 12 weeks apart (see their Performance Series White Paper, for example, page 9), because statistically speaking, any differences in a shorter period are meaningless -- differences can be attributed to many factors other than student learning.

Unless a test is mapped to a pacing guide and so questions adjust throughout the year according to what students "should be" learning (per the pacing guide, but many other problems here, including that the pacing guide is dictating from on high what teachers teach when regardless of their students, and the tests would need to be aligned to curriculum), it seems unlikely to me that test results will vary significantly from test session to test session, unless... Since the 5-week data will be used for the monthly performance management inquisition, the obvious thing for a teacher to do, to succeed in the current test-crazy CPS environment, would be to study the Riverside item pool, and... teach to the test!


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