Testing and Accountability
THE TEST FAILS
Accountability is the big news in Indiana as school starts this year. It seems that our students didn't do well on the new iLearn test which replaced ISTEP and was administred last Spring.
Steve Hinnefeld, who blogs at Schools Matter, reported (see The stakes are the problem, below),
Just under half of all students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English/language arts, and just under half were proficient in mathematics, according to the assessment. Some 37% were proficient in both.Why? Our students did fine on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) often called The Nation's Report Card. At least three/fourths of our students in grades four and eight were At or above Basic in reading and the same in math (for a discussion of the difference between Basic and Proficient on the NAEP see If NAEP “Proficient” Means “Grade Level Proficiency,” Then America’s Private Schools Are in Trouble by blogger Mercedes Schneider. Also see Scale Scores and Achievement Levels).
The problem is, apparently, the test itself. Superintendents from across the state (including the State Superintendent of Public Instruction) have recognized this and have spoken out to "pause accountability" for students, teachers, and schools. This makes plenty of sense, especially since a student achievement test is not a valid measure of schools and teachers!
Standardized Testing 101
Standardized tests are used to measure the knowledge students have of the content covered by the test. Only the content of the test is measured. In other words, a standardized math test which covers arithmetic and pre-algebra (similar to most standardized math tests used in elementary schools) should not be used to judge students' knowledge of reading.
Standardized tests are developed with validity and reliability. That means that 1) they measure what they were meant to measure (validity), and 2) they are consistent in their measurement (reliability). A standardized math achievement test is meant to measure a student's math achievement. It is valid only if it is used to measure their math achievement, and nothing else.
Using standardized tests meant to measure student achievement for any other use than measuring student achievement is invalid.
Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure Educational Quality
Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is.The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools By Alfie Kohn (2000)
The more a test is made to "count"—in terms of being the basis for promoting or retaining students, for funding or closing down schools—the more that anxiety is likely to rise and the less valid the scores become.Standardized student achievement tests should not be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools, and school systems. Achievement test results used in such a way are invalid.
Grading schools in Indiana as A to F based on student achievement tests is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.
Using student achievement tests to evaluate individual teachers is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.
The millions of dollars we spend on iLearn is being wasted if we misuse the tests.
Majority fail 1st test of ILEARN
[SACS Superintendent Phil Downs] and leaders of other Allen County districts decried the use of standardizes tests to unfairly measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools and students. And they called for changes to the overall accountability system.
“One of the most depressing days of the school year is when test scores come out,” Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.
McCormick acknowledged that implementation dips usually come with a new assessment. Compared to last year, scores dropped 16% in English and 11% in math.
But she defended the students, noting college entrance scores and those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show improvement.
“Their performance is not backsliding,” McCormick said. “There are promising trends of student performance. This assessment and threshold was much more rigorous.”
Superintendents: Make one-year pause on ILEARN scores, school grades permanent
If ILEARN scores are adversely impacting students, teachers and school districts, and if our legislators are recommending a one-year pause preventing these scores from harming students, teachers and school districts, shouldn’t this pause be a permanent one? We are calling upon the governor and legislators to make the right decision and permanently detach test scores from teacher evaluations and grading Indiana public schools.
Standardized test scores should only be used for diagnostic purposes and nothing more. Remember former state Rep. Ray Richardson? Thirty-five years ago he created the legislation that called for a standardized test specifically designed to help teachers figure out which of their students needed help. Thus, ISTEP was born. Now, 35 years later, he regrets getting that legislation passed. As reported by Matthew Tully in the Indianapolis Star on Jan. 28, 2016, Richardson says, “It’s being used exclusively to grade schools and teachers. … That was never the intent.”
The stakes are the problem
Indiana’s ILEARN scores have been made public, and the freakout is underway. I guess we should be grateful. A decade ago, business leaders and newspaper editorial writers might have pointed to the scores as evidence that schools were broken. Now the consensus seems to be that the test is broken.
Here’s another possibility. Maybe the problem isn’t with the test. Maybe the problem is what we do with it. Maybe it’s the high stakes, not the testing, that we should reject.
UPDATE: ONE MORE ARTICLE
The Expensive Lesson of ILEARN
No grift can last forever, and maybe this one is falling apart. Fifteen years ago, Doghouse Riley wrote that ISTEP and similar requirements were “designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.” (The Washington Post history on Indiana school privatization suggests the ball really started rolling back in 1996.) My take has been that the push for vouchers and charters has been designed to subsidize religious education, break the teachers’ unions, and financially reward friends and well-wishers of the privatization advocates.
If Doghouse was right that the tests were intended to prove that the wrong sorts of schools were failures, the ILEARN is even more of a debacle.