Today I read a very insightful article by Justin “Juice” Fong, the head of Internal Communications at Teach for America. While I do have my own… often critical opinions of his other pieces about TFA, he published something today that I found very insightful (and you should definitely check it out!) I took the time to write a reply, offering further thoughts on how we can change standardized testing and thought I’d post it here since I have done a bit more research/brainstorming on this matter and should probably update my blog with my ideas 🙂
So here it is!
I like the idea of making tests purely diagnostic. This is something Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on learning and creativity, has always suggested. I agree with all the points that you brought up, especially the point you made about how it will lower the high stakes currently put on testing and the high pressure put on teachers to teach to the test. But what are your thoughts on the tests’ effects on students still? Especially if this is how they are welcomed back to school at the start of the year?
Also, what kind of tests did you have in mind for the diagnostic exams? I would like to suggest that the tests be assessments of deeper learning that assess skill and performance with content rather than narrow assessments of multiple-choice that don’t fully encompass student ability and instead reduce student learning to meaningless metrics. Tests can provide useful data, so shouldn’t we give students the best tests that will provide the most useful data?
If it were up to me there would be none of the standardized tests that we currently have. Tons of research show the negative effects of the current testing model on students and schools (and I’ve seen the effects with my own eyes, even in my own family) and I think that we can do better by our students if we move further away from traditional multiple choice testing towards methods of assessment that are also productive, in that they encourage student learning simultaneously.
My current vision for “accountability” and “assessment” in school is portfolio and project-based, as standardized tests that are merely multiple choice tend to omit a wide range of skills and personal assets that are important to ensure in an education. I actually don’t see portfolios much as assessments, but more like educational tools, as students are able to learn, exercise their creativity, and demonstrate the interconnected mastery of essential skills (reasoning, research, argument, craft, etc…) as they are being evaluated for their progress. Portfolios can also give a more vivid picture of student progress while test scores show more outcomes. They are truly assessments of the deepest learning (see writings of Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond) that encompass student learning in a well-rounded and accurate manner. I think we can get a better picture of a student’s mastery of a skill through the work that student produces rather than his/her answer on question #46 of the state standardized test, right?
What’s even better: these assessments will not only capture student performance in a more holistic manner, but will also allow for teachers to foster student growth through many unrestricted pathways. What I mean by this is that these pathways can involve projects that incorporate skills and concepts across various academic disciplines, especially in higher grade levels, accomplishing a lot more with a lot less. On the other hand, test questions test skills individually and on a shallow level; they don’t allow much room for the application and connection of different skills like student-produced projects do. For instance, a project for a unit on the Civil War can include a research paper on an event/aspect of the war (this helps students develop research/writing/argumentation skills) paired with a creative piece (video, 3D design, poster, diagram, song, etc…) that perhaps connects the Civil War to 21st century society (this helps students sharpen the skills of application, connection, creativity, and critical higher-order thinking). The possibilities are endless! I think there is a unique opportunity here for students to get a layered, interdisciplinary, and multi-faceted education.
Now I’m going to go into the logistics of all this. These are ideas that I’m still developing as well, however, so feel free to comment on or question anything you see!
I’m envisioning that portfolios would consist of the highlights of a student’s work throughout the course of a school year and would be submitted for review at the end of the year. Teachers can be trusted to assess student work in written evaluations and a third-party can intervene every year or every few years to go over student work in schools (as well as observe classrooms like you mentioned… I really like that idea; it was something my own school had and it worked very well). This might take more effort (and perhaps time, although I do think it’s time that’s better-utilized than test-prep or test-scoring), but students are worth the investment and if it happens on a local level, it won’t be too tough.
Standards that portfolios will have to meet will build upon each other rather than be unique to a sole grade level (so perhaps we can improve upon Common Core, this time with more student/teacher/parent input). These standards can serve as sort of a flexible rubric for student work portfolios (flexible in that students can demonstrate mastery of a skill of concept in many different ways, but all will have mastered the skill).
As for the diagnostic part of this, teachers would be able to receive their students’ portfolios from the previous year during the summer so they can be able to look at their incoming class’s abilities. They can also do a diagnostic assignment at the beginning of the year, something perhaps a little more exciting and engaging than a test, and use that data to figure out the best paths to take for their class. (side note on this: I think it’s really important during the first week of school for teachers to not only lay down expectations but also listen to their students intently and figure out what they expect.)
Let me know what you think of this idea, and if I missed anything important! Always eager to hear different perspectives. Thank you for your insightful post!