Monday, April 21, 2008

Testing

Today we are taking the NWEA (NorthWest Evaluation Association) Levels Test. We'll be taking it part of tomorrow as well. It's a good test, geared toward students' actual abilities, which is determined by a "locator" test, which was previously given. Those abilities will be compared to last year's NWEA results to see how far students have come in a year. I really like this test and what it shows, and I'll have the results back in about two weeks or less. I'll be able to make corrections specifically based on student need. If Sally needs improvement in number sense, I can address that. If Jamal is a poor problem solver, I can tailor instruction to help him overcome that deficiency before the school year is over.

Earlier in the year (the school year, that is, it was September, 2007), we had ISTEP+, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus, which is three or four days long; it's a bad test. It actually doesn't check for progress, like the name implies. It simply measures what the students know of the standards they were expected to have mastered the previous year. It doesn't compare what they know now to what they knew then, it simply determines what they know now. There is no way to even make a comparison to last year's performance, since the tests are entirely different. Ironically, this is the test used to determine whether our students have made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a key component of No Child Left Behind. No, we still don't have those individual results back, but we do know which of our subcategories did not make AYP. By the time we do get the scores, it will only provide a snapshot of what the students knew (and didn't know) seven months ago. And if I'm worth anything as a teacher, I know that already because of my own evaluations. And by the way, the ISTEP+ costs millions of dollars statewide. We taxpayers pay millions of dollars to find out what students knew seven months previously when it's too late to do anything about it. Well, we also pay those millions so the federal government can assign blame for student failure to promote their private school voucher agendas.

I have an idea. Why don't the people who are trained professionally to evaluate individual students' strengths and weaknesses assess students at the beginning and end of each instructional unit? They could create an assessment based on the Indiana Standards to determine a student's previous knowledge, analyze strengths and weaknesses, and then teach according to what is needed most. At the end of the unit, a post-assessment could be given, and reasons for passing and failing could be given with specific, personal attention paid to students who demonstrate poor performance. Those poor performers could have instantaneous feedback, and reasons for bad test results could be addressed.

I can tell you, for example, which of my students has parents who do not know how to do the math that I teach them. I can tell you which of my students's parents do not require them to finish their homework before they turn on their video games. I can even tell you which of my students won't see their parents or any other adult tonight when they go home. I can tell you which of my students are responsible for the care and feeding of younger siblings or even younger cousins, placing far too much responsibility on their young shoulders, leaving them no time to practice the skills that I am trying to pass on to them.

Unfortunately there's nowhere to bubble that in on their ISTEP+ score sheets.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

That's a fantastic idea you have! Allow trained professionals to assess the capabilities of students? Let's have them pay exorbitant amounts of money for an education that will train them for these important roles in children's lives. Then we'll pay them nearly enough to live on! BRILLIANT! I have an idea to add to that...you could call it a "report card"!!! What a crazy concept.

Maybe someday we will be able to undo the harm that this government administration has done to this country, but I bet it won't be before the next ten years are over with. For some vets, it will never be undone. "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." --George Santayana.