Analyzing an Alternative to Standardized Assessments

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Standardized testing has been discussed, debated, and dissected by educators, school reformers, policy makers, and parents for many years. There has been much said in support of and against standardized testing just within the last several years. The evolution of standardized testing has been astonishing as it moved from a simple end of the year assessment to the quintessential indicator that determines student, teacher, and school success or failure.

Perhaps no facet of education has been distorted as much or moved as far away from its intended use as standardized testing. 

Debunking the Myth of Growth

One of the biggest issues that educators have with standardized testing is that the tests are not good indicators of true growth. Standardized assessments are written to grade specific standards. This means that students taking a 6th-grade reading assessment are taking a completely different exam than students taking a 7th-grade reading assessment.  Despite this, many states have included some form of a year over year growth component when evaluating teachers and/or schools. This can paint an inaccurate picture of growth, both positive and negative, for students, parents, and even educators. 

Using standardized test scores as the sole indicator of success can also create a false sense hope or a false sense of failure for students and educators.

  The most critically misunderstood element of standardized testing is that an assessment for one grade level does not necessarily compare to the preceding grade’s assessment. It is also important to note that there are also many external factors that can influence a student’s performance on an assessment, which further complicates accurate year over year comparison.

As people, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Theoretically, a student may perform well on a 6th-grade reading assessment because it’s naturally tailored to their strengths, but then struggle the next year on the 7th-grade reading assessment because it’s naturally tailored to their weaknesses.

Standardized assessments are said to be a snapshot of where a student is at academically at a given point. This further complicates using year over year data as an accurate comparison as each student is typically at a completely different place from one year to the next. For most students, a lot changes from the end of any school year compared to the next. Teachers and students would benefit from a different method of measuring growth through standardized assessments.

An Alternative Standardized Assessment That Values True Growth

Lost in the debate is the fact that standardized testing can serve an advantageous academic purpose for teachers, students, parents, and schools when it is done correctly.  As it stands, most states give students a standardized summative assessment towards the end of a given school year. One of the biggest issues with standardized assessments is that they measure how a student performs on a single day.

One significant change could immediately increase the validity of standardized assessments among educator circles across this country. This alteration would include giving students a standardized pre-assessment at the beginning of each school year and then the traditional standardized summative assessment at the end of the school year.

Teachers love authentic data. Effective teachers use data on a daily basis to drive instruction. Giving a standardized pre-assessment at the beginning of the year would provide teachers with a bevy of critical data to drive both individualized and whole group instruction. Teachers would have a better understanding of what students actually already know and where there may be learning gaps. The value in this subtle, yet complex change would be significant. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of this change would be that it would provide an accurate growth indicator for students.

  By giving students a standardized pre-assessment, you establish a baseline for growth. It gives you the opportunity to see the true impact a single teacher in a single year has on student learning. Most educators will tell you that they may not be able to take every student from point A to point Z, but they are confident that they can move them closer to point Z than they will point A. This type of standardized assessment system truly gives teachers the opportunity to prove themselves. It could level the playing field and make things fair for teachers, but most importantly it would benefit student learning.

What Are the Drawbacks of Utilizing a Standardized Pre/Post Assessment System?

No assessment system is perfect. There will always be flaws. Sometimes you have to weigh your choices, overlook the fallacies, and go with the option that will serve your students and educators the best. Moving to a standardized pre/post assessment system has its drawbacks including cost effectiveness, instructional time loss, and the potential to game the system.

Standardized testing is a thriving monetary industry. It costs states a lot of money to contract with a testing vendor who produces quality assessments, scores the assessments, and develops reports that go out to individual districts and schools. By adding a pre-assessment, you are virtually doubling the cost. This can be a huge obstacle for many states as educational funding is at a premium. Millions of dollars are invested in testing each year and doubling that cost may not be an option.

One way to potentially make the process more cost effective would be to develop online standardized assessments with instant feedback options and exclusive online reporting.

Another concern is that additional testing will cut into valuable instructional time. Even two days lost due to testing can be deemed a significant loss. Adding another testing window can also be exhausting. The testing window can be described as a small theatrical production. There are a lot of moving parts. Scheduling and preparation can be a nightmare.

Finally, using a standardized pre/post assessment system allows the potential for teachers to game the system. The standardized testing era has forced many teachers to “teach to the test.” This form of teaching and instructional would likely increase with data available to indicate specific strengths and weaknesses prior to the end of the year.  Most teachers would utilize the information gained from the pre-assessment to focus on areas of weakness.  Many would argue that this is not a healthy way for students to learn. Students should be taught with balance in honing strengths while simultaneously improving weaknesses.

Conclusion

As stated above, no standardized assessment system is without flaws. However, moving to a standardized pre/post assessment system offers a couple of tremendous benefits. First, it can bridge the data gap for teachers to construct real learning plans that benefit each individual student.  Finally, teachers and students can be judged on actual student growth and not inaccurate year over year growth.

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Meador, Derrick. "Analyzing an Alternative to Standardized Assessments." ThoughtCo, Dec. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/analyzing-an-alternative-to-standardized-assessments-4117347. Meador, Derrick. (2017, December 30). Analyzing an Alternative to Standardized Assessments. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/analyzing-an-alternative-to-standardized-assessments-4117347 Meador, Derrick. "Analyzing an Alternative to Standardized Assessments." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/analyzing-an-alternative-to-standardized-assessments-4117347 (accessed January 17, 2018).