Assessments- The Good, The Bad, The Painful….
First, just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Common Core Assessments or any state assessment of any kind. In Kansas, we haven’t seen the results of our students’ test scores in years because they keep messing up the system. The first year had a pilot test and we broke the system. It crashed completely. The next year there was something that went wrong, I don’t remember what it was, I just remember feeling epic proportions of frustration. Sometime when we have more time to kill, I’ll tell you how I really feel about state assessments. For now you can assume I feel like they have a lot of room for improvement.
What I’m talking about are the practical assessments, but I think even those assessments have been misused, overused and abused.
Here’s what I mean:
I talked about RTI in a previous post. RTI is a federally mandated program to make sure that all students are being taught at their appropriate levels with adequate supports. Because this is a federally mandated program, if schools don’t do it, there are financial repercussions. This frightens people, and rightfully so! We need money to make schools work, absolutely! Fear can make people do crazy things, though! I talk to a lot of teachers in a lot of places, and have heard some say they have as many as 54 testing days out of the school year, without counting state assessments! How many days does that leave for instruction??? Not enough to implement RTI, just enough to test. Ouch. That’s not fun or productive for teachers or students, is it?
So what are they testing for?
Curriculum based tests can be the tests people in the general public are used to, such as spelling tests, end of week tests, vocabulary tests, comprehension tests, etc. that have been over the classroom content in that unit. Teachers need to know what students have mastered from their instruction so they aren’t going away anytime soon.
Then there are the skill specific tests, which test the 5 main areas of reading, including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. In math it’s Numeration, Algebra, Measurement, Geometry and Numbers and Operations.
The skill specific tests are often what I do in the special education setting. I have to say that I got a 3.9 GPA in graduate school because statistics was a required course. I poured over the books and I cried before tests like my favorite puppy just died. I HATE statistics. However, I love this kind of data. For me, it absolutely breaks down each and every skill deficit and gives me a detailed roadmap of where to go with each student. Then when I do progress monitoring at the designated intervals, either monthly or quarterly, or more often if the team decides that is necessary, I can analyze and plot the students’ performance and progress. Is it adequate? Yes? Then stay the course. No? Then let’s go back to the drawing board, maybe we missed something.
So, if these are all pertinent, why did I say they can be misused, overused and abused?
When tests are given to all students because some document says that’s what needs to happen; someone said at the district, state, or federal level that it’s a good test and we should do it, the time spent testing is time in the classroom that no one will ever see again. Poof. Gone. It will give us information, for sure. But what are we going to do with that information? If the only reason we are doing this assessment is because we have to, because someone read somewhere that we should, then the limited time we have with our students to teach them has been misused.
Along the same lines with misuse of assessments, is overuse. I touched on that above, but not all kids need all of the tests. Again, I talked about the one-size-fits-all protocol that needs to change in the RTI article and testing isn’t any different from teaching. If a student’s classroom performance is above average there is no reason to spend the time doing the skill specific assessments. For example, if there is a third grade student who routinely scores between 85-100% on all of her tests and quizzes regarding the regular curriculum’s vocabulary words and reading fluency and comprehension assessments, there is no need to do skill specific phonics assessments with this child. She/ he is clearly demonstrating they have mastered phonics if they are scoring so high on the curriculum assessments. This sounds silly, but these things are happening and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s happening out of fear that not enough data will be collected just in case the day may come that student needs additional services.
I will even go so far as to say some of these assessments are abused. If you think about it, if assessments are just to make sure our legal requirements are filled out, and we are not utilizing that information to enhance student performance, they are just to give the illusion that the requirements are done, like a checklist to say “See, I did it!” Sometimes these assessments are also used just to attempt to put kids on a fast-track to special education placements.
In actuality, all of these assessments have an appropriate time and place, as long as they are being used to guide instruction.
If a student is routinely underperforming in the classroom material, the team should find out why. What specific skills are they lacking that are causing him/ her to not catch on to the curriculum? Then, run the tests and find the appropriate skills-based intervention program to catch the student up to his/ her peers. In that scenario, the skills based assessments are the missing piece of the puzzle. In the previous example, each student had a box full of puzzle pieces that would come out of the closet a few days of the year, none of them fit, so we put them back in the closet and wasted our time trying to piece them together. What was the point in all of that?
If assessments are used to guide instruction, to choose appropriate interventions and monitored appropriately, they are golden. If they are misused, overused or abused, it will lead to wasted classroom time, burned out teachers and a broken system.
Thank you for reading, I encourage and welcome comments. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let’s chat!
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Thanks for reading!