Although I do not necessarily agree with the standardized assessment movement, I can see why everyone wants to use the results to judge teachers, principals, districts, etc. I get it…. You want to know how “effective” public educators are (or are not). You want to see trends, you want to see growth, you want to see the results of different types of kids. Once again, I think there are other measures that could provide you with better information. I have one question remaining…. What is in it for the kids?
For instance, lets look at the education experience of Lamar, an 8 year old child in 3rd grade (the “baseline” for all things data in New Jersey)…. In school, Lamar takes assessments all the time. He tries his best, and if he struggles, his teacher provides additional support and remediation. Once a day, Lamar heads to the Response to Intervention room where he is provided research-based intervention on his academic deficiencies. On Friday, Lamar takes a “progress monitoring” assessment to see how he progressed from the previous week. He charts his own progression with the interventionist, and usually leaves with an understanding of his status (and a sticker). When Lamar works with his teacher, she helps him with his writing, math, reading comprehension and he also understands how he is progressing as he looks at his grades, written and verbal feedback from the teacher. Lamar’s mom is provided all of this information from the interventionist and the teacher. She gets a progress report, report card, and has the ability to come in and discuss Lamar’s progress at any time. She also has access to Lamar’s grades online. Theoretically, everyone is on the same page with Lamar. Then, Lamar takes the state approved standardized assessment. This is when things change. Remember, Lamar is 8.
As Lamar enters the room for the state assessment, he can tell that his teacher is acting different. She is much more formal, and reads the directions, and his laptop is now a state controlled test machine. His teacher usually has a helper pass out the tests, pencils, but on this day she is doing all of this. Lamar notices a bunch of his friends in class who are normally there are not in the room. They were assigned a different teacher because they need more time, extra help or redirection. Once the test begins, Lamar’s attention drifts. He thinks about basketball, the new superhero movie, and the kickball game at recess. As his teacher circulates the room she notices that Lamar’s attention is waning, and normally, she would redirect him… Not today…. Lamar does the best that he can. His teacher collects the laptops, and after the 4th day of the test, it is all over. Lamar, the 8 year old boy, notices that the whole school returns to “normal.” He quickly forgets about the state assessment. His teacher continues providing instruction, she gives tests, feedback, smiley faces, and stickers. He goes back to visiting his teacher in the Intervention room, and he charts his progress. So, in terms of the standardized assessment, what is in it for Lamar?
Honestly, Lamar has no idea the difference between all of the terms we use when describing his education. He has no real idea how the results of the assessment will be used. In fact, he won’t see the “results” of the test until the next school year. By that time he will be in a different grade, with a different teacher, in a different classroom. No one will review the test with him like he is accustomed to. No one will chart his progress, or point out areas he can work on. All he knows is that the test was hard, and he can’t talk about what was on it. His mom will get a letter in the mail 4 months later that will tell her how he performed. She won’t know what he got correct or incorrect because there is no item analysis. His teacher had no idea what was really on the test except the shapes in the lower corner of the screen that allowed her to ensure everyone was on the same page. No one can talk about it. No one really wants to talk about it.
So, what’s in it for Lamar? What is in it for the students? I can see how the students in High School see the relevance because the results of the standardized test can determine if they graduate. I can also see how High School students see the relevance of the SAT or the ACT because (even though this is changing, but stick with me) the results determine their potential college or university. But this is about Lamar, the 8 year old little boy, that takes a test that everyone (except Lamar) thinks is very important. What’s in it for Lamar?