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5 Methods to Overcome Standardized Test Culture

By Malia Hoffmann
February 10, 2020

5 Methods To Overcome Standardized Test Culture

I recently came across an EdSurge article about how several states across the U.S. are revamping their state standardized tests (DeSchryver, 2019). Part of me thought, good, growth and change is always positive. The other part of me just became irritated that we are still conducting these antiquated “standardized” tests when kids are not standard.

If you are a parent or grew up with siblings, you can attest to this.

Products of the same environment vary drastically in one household, let alone in a classroom. So to test students in a standardized way doesn’t make sense.

Which leads me to question why are we spending so much time and money on reinventing these tests.

I’m probably biased because I was never a good test taker, lucky for me I found a way to be successful in this test-heavy culture. Yet, many students are not so lucky or don’t find work-arounds like I did.

 

WHY DOES THE GOVERNMENT LOVE STATISTIC SO MUCH?

So my disdain for tests may be rooted in my experiences, yet is supported with my education and training. Yet the government loves numbers and statistics.

They like to measure everything in quick and easy figures to spew out to sound impressive, i.e., the U.S. graduation rate is 84.6% (Kerr and Boyington, 2019) Yet, not everything can be made into a statistic, for example, measuring our students’ learning.

Nationally we are so obsessed with grading and testing students at a very young age that we forget why we are doing it. We aim to measure what students are learning, but with such strict testing schedules it leaves little time to teach anything, only time to test.

An educator from North Carolina echoed this problem in an interview for my podcast I conducted recently (it will be published in the next few weeks. Look for the podcast called: Kōrero - Holly Jackson to hear more about education in NC) (Hoffmann and Ramirez, 2020).   

 

HOW ARE STATES ADAPTING THEIR STANDARDIZED TESTS?

As the EdSurge article points out, several states who are working on adapting their standardized test based on Obama’s Every Child Succeeds Act from 2010 (ten years later they are working on these changes and this is what we have?).

My problem with these revamped assessments is that Georgia and North Carolina are looking to take formative assessments and roll them into summative assessments. That is not the point of formative assessments.

Education reform is always the victim of lawmakers who get their hands in something they know very little about. Many people think, lawmakers included, they are experts in education because they all went to school.

 

WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THIS SO-CALLED REFORM?

However, very few of them are actually trained educators. Let’s leave the assessing to the trained educators. Trained educators know that the definition of “formative” assessment is the process in forming and applying knowledge. In this case, students are beginning their process of applying their knowledge where an educator provides feedback for the student to apply and continue building on their foundational knowledge in the subject area.

Students should not be graded on this growth process. Formative assessment should be a risk-free time to learn. Tying in formative assessment it into their summative assessment and slapping a grade on it puts more pressure on learning.

 

INSTEAD OF TESTS, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Testing and putting numbers on learning in the form of grades is not helpful to the learning process. According to research out of Yale University and the Happiness Lab podcast, Dr. Laurie Santos (2019) states how detrimental grades are to learning and how arbitrary the four point grading scale really is.

I encourage you as an educator to throw out the test, and rather provide constant feedback. Also, I encourage you to read the book “10 Mindframes for Visible Learning” where Hattie and Zierer (2018) discuss the importance of feedback and how it reflects how you are doing as a teacher rather than how your students are doing. The focus is formative feedback for growth to inspire meaningful learning. 

 

5 WAYS YOU CAN USE TO EXIST IN THIS SYSTEM

Where does this leave you as an educator in this system that focuses on assessment in which you may not agree with? I often say, shut up and color, when I am forced to do something I don’t agree with. But here I feel you can color outside of the lines. Here are my top 5 ways to exist in this system and try to make a change. 

  1. Learn as much as you can about assessment. Read the book I suggested above and read as much as you can about assessment and how to do it well. Attend PDs on it. Talk to others. Listen to podcasts. Grow your knowledge on assessment. Create and use multiple forms of assessment to provide your students with diverse opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge. 
  2. Assess, not test. Provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency. Authentic feedback is key. Give lots and lots of feedback. Make sure that it is thoughtful and meaningful feedback. 
  3. Don’t teach to the test or focus on what will be assessed. Focus on your curriculum, the projects you have put a lot of time and effort in developing to create a positive learning experience for your students. They will remember these projects and what you taught them in these experiences.
  4. Get feedback from your students. Find out what they liked, disliked, or still don’t understand about the lesson, project, or assessment. Remember, your students’ performance is a reflection of your performance. Make adjustments and try not to take any of their feedback personally. This is your opportunity to grow too.
  5. Get involved. Get involved in writing curriculum, in adopting curriculum, and in curriculum committees. Maybe you already are, great. If you don’t already, soon you will feel more confident to voice your opinion about what should be assessed and how. Make your voice heard. There are boycotts and movements around the country against standardized tests. Also write to your congress people and the Secretary of Education and demand a change. 

 

References

DeSchryver, D. (2019, September 26). When summative and formative assessment markets combine, will expectations collide? EdSurge. Retrieved from edsurge.com/news/2019-09-26-when-summative-and-formative-assessment-markets-combine-will-expectations-collide

Hattie, J. & Ziere, K. (2018). 10 mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success. Routledge.

Hoffmann, M. M. & Ramirez, A. Y. (Producer). (2020). Kōrero S1 - Holly Jackson. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/show/238W9RFYAAA1VqJe7jLlSK

Santos, L. R. (Producer). (2019, November 19). The happiness lab: 10. Making the grade. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/episode/54y6QqXOFMOcFn0vOkj32B


 

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