Part 4: The Standardized Test

November 19, 2007 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

This is a normal standard bell curve. All the test grades are added together and the mean point is determined. The mean point is the top of the curve. This is the test taker who is tagged in the following ways: 50%, 50 percentile, 0 Z-score and 5 stanine. This test taker is average or meets the standard. The test taker is a number. The name happens to be associated with that number. Now that number has a bunch of numbers associated with it.

500px-Normal distribution and scales

Standardized testing has become so attached to NCLB (No Child Left Behind) that the positive benefits are lost. Standardized testing got its big boost in the late 1950’s when the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit around the earth. Four years later Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargin became the first man into space. Panic spread through school systems! What’s wrong with our schools? Why weren’t the US first into space. The first phase of emphasis on science and math struck the education world. The arts and social studies were diminished in favor of more science and math. Testing was introduced into schools by The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), California Achievement Test (CAT), and American College Tests (ACT). There a mountain of other companies who prepare and publish these tests. Most colleges use the ACT or SAT as an entrance exam. The ACT is not an achievement test. It is a reading test that requires a broad base of general knowledge. Standardized testing is a great tool when it is used as it was designed to be used.

When I began teaching, the IOWA test were the regular used test by schools. It was administrated every other year. The results of the test were poured over by teachers to see if there was a trend in the results. The results of the ITBS showed a drop in math ability from third to fifth grade. It had not been like this before. What happen that caused this drop? Teachers had changed in the fifth grade. They certainly seemed qualified and their pupils did well on all other topics. We looked deeper into the results. Each specific topic that was tested was identified on the data sheets. When we looked, we noted that “long division” was where the problem laid. When we removed that section, the results were more to our liking. What happened? The fourth grade teachers pointed at the fifth grade teachers as the fifth pointed back at the fourth. “Long Division” was not being taught. The teachers thought the other group was doing that part of the math. The curriculum was the problem. It had been ignored completely. (A math teacher before his time no doubt). We were able to identify kids who seemed to working below what the tests seem to indicate or the other way as well. Standardized tests were necessary diagnostic tools.

Somewhere in our journey to improve learning we got lost. Standardized tests are now accountability tools. Pupils and schools must meet certain criteria to be considered passing. Failure to meet these standards can result in pupils not graduating or being promoted; schools can be closed and its staff fired. Instead of using standardized tests to improve the quality, we are using it to show how educators and pupils are not doing their tasks. There is something seriously wrong here.

A very brief word on how tests are standardized. When test results are returned, a statistical sample is chosen to establish a standard. The scores are arranged in a bell curve (see above). This becomes the standard that assigns pupils into stanines. That means that as pupils improve the bell curve slides to the right. Therefore, schools and pupils will always be looked at in a bad light. I taught many pupils who would do poorly on standardized tests but showed a genus in class. I would love to see how Einstein or Edison would do on the ACT. There is something seriously wrong here, too.

In Illinois, as is true in many other states, a state achievement test is administered. The ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) is given over a two day period which includes the ACT. Day one has all students taking the ACT and on day two the ISAT is administered. College bound pupils see the value of the ACT but do see the use of the ISAT. The ISAT measures the vast array of state standards and each year the emphasis shifts thus making it a guessing game on the part of educators. The ISAT are very specific test questions much that you might expect on a teachers test given at the end of a unit of study. These unit tests are bit size assessment of material studied. The ISAT is a gluttonous size that chokes the pupil. There is something seriously wrong here, too.

Having taught too long, I know that this will also pass by. Education is constantly reinventing the wheel. But I have noticed that each time the new wheel rolls around something worthwhile sticks around and, as a result, teaching or learning improves. It always amazes me that each generation I have taught manages to do so well and become good and successful people. There is something seriously right here.


Entry filed under: NCLB, Uncategorized.

Accountability: A side issue The School: Part 5 Human Makeup

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November 2007
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