Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The problem of testing

Testing Issues
Added to the shortcomings of the standards movement is the recent heavy emphasis on high-stakes testing to determine the achievement of the standards. Decades of work have highlighted the effectiveness of authentic assessments (portfolios, student exhibitions, scoring rubrics, etc.) as tools for informing teachers’ instructional practices and methods for communicating to students and parents the knowledge that has been gained. However, the current practice in testing is the standardized, norm-reference test, consisting almost wholly of multiple choice questions. It is problematic that policy makers would on one hand mandate the development of elaborate content standards only to couple such policies with low-level and narrow assessments (Nichols and Berliner, 2007, Dorn 2007)
The long and troubled history of testing and test development in the United States was severely damaged by racism, which the test producers have yet to overcome (Berlak, 2000; Vald├ęz & Figueroa, 1994). Standardized, usually multiple choice, tests are preferred because they can be mandated by political leaders, implemented, and deliver clear results. But, as in the case of positivism and reductionism (from which these tests come), they are measuring and evaluating only a small segment of the important learning goals of schools. Low level tests do not measure human relations, respect, civic courage, and critical thinking, for example. Standardized testing is a political act that often forces teachers to change their teaching strategies. Teachers need to examine the limits of the testing processes and use classroom based assessments to inform their teaching. In many states, including Texas, California, and Massachusetts, and in many school districts, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, standards and a test driven curriculum have been used to reduce teacher professional choice and decision-making.
The most basic failure of the testing/accountability model was to refuse to recognize that public education is far more than production; it includes, at a minimum, facts, concepts, generalizations, skills, attitudes, critical thinking, and citizenship. Thus, a business-production model, based on low-level, multiple choice testing, only measures a small part of the important issues of schools in a democratic society (see Renzulli, 2002, Dorn 2007). Meanwhile, governors and legislators committed to the testing movement ignore other parts of the business production model, including providing as much support, including tools, training, and technical assistance for the workers as needed.
Testing systems have grown in part because they are very profitable for the companies that produce and score these low-quality tests—companies that lobby the legislatures to establish testing systems. State funding for testing grew in Texas from $19.5 million in 1995 to $ 68.6 million in 2001 and at similar rates in other states (Gluckman, Jan. 2002). Bloomberg News estimated in 2006 that the testing industry makes over $ 2.5 billion per year ( Gloven and Evans, 2006). Funding increases for testing and test preparation usually is matched by a reduction in funding for other classroom items such as textbooks, dictionaries, libraries, and teacher support. In spite of these large investments test-based accountability systems, without major improvements in the quality of testing and investments in teacher capacity-building, will not produce significant improvement in student achievement in high-risk neighborhoods (Kober, 2001; Popham, 2003, Nichols and Berliner, 2007).
Extensive evidence shows that the current testing emphasis has driven instruction away from important issues of developing democratic and multicultural content, away from critical thinking, and away from the development of citizenship and prodemocratic values (Neill, 2003; Renzulli, 2002). Available testing, particularly multiple choice testing, is not the only form of assessment. Other assessment devices include teacher observations, rubrics, student presentations, and portfolios ( Wood, Darling-Hammond, Neil, and Roschewski, 2007 ) These forms of assessment can be used to measure progress on goals of critical thinking, democracy, and important multicultural goals such as mutual respect.
Scores on most standardized skill tests actually teach us very little; they measure very imprecisely. Current objective tests measure whether the student can identify letters, words, and rhyming words, but they do not measure comprehension of a paragraph or the ability to write a creative essay. They measure skills and isolated facts rather than significant academic achievement. Tests are usually not actual measures of competencies, but measures of isolated skills that can be drilled without improving the student’s education. Rather than investing more money in the current low-quality testing systems, we could develop appropriate and useful assessments, including using computer technology, which would help the teacher. There are good uses for standardized testing. They should be short tests given frequently that assist the teacher in making decisions about individual students, teaching and review. But that is now what is happening with testing in k-12 today.
From: Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. 4th. ed. 2010. p. 381.
Duane Campbell
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