Monday, February 19, 2018

Six questions for new statewide tests | Better tests, better learning

| Post by Cory Curl |

Note: We're wrapping up our discussion of what's new and what's around the corner for student tests in Kentucky, focusing on issues of interest to families and communities. Previously, we've explored how tests can help students learn, how they can inform teachers in the classroom, how they can clarify expectations, and how they can be used to benchmark performance to schools across the world. Today, we tackle issues about tests primarily used to measure student learning.

  • Learning
  • Informing
  • Clarifying
  • Benchmarking
  • Measuring

  • Kentucky's families and communities will soon have the opportunity to discover more about elementary and middle school student learning in science. This spring, students in the 4th and 7th grades will be the first to take the state's new science "summative" test.

    (See this post by Susan Perkins Weston from October 2016 for more background on the science assessment system's through-course tasks and classroom-embedded assessments.)

    We don't yet know what the test will look like for students and how results will be given to parents and to the public, but the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) website promises more information this month.

    I'm excited to learn these details not only for the science test but as a hint about what's to come for Kentucky's overall suite of elementary and middle school statewide assessments in reading and writing, mathematics, and social studies.

    Kentucky is poised to apply what it's learned from the development of the new science assessment system, as well as what other states have learned in the last few years in developing new statewide tests. To serve as effective advocates for their children and all children, Kentucky's families and community leaders need solid, comparable information about student learning in the areas critical for their future success in college, careers, and civic leadership.

    Why does the state require these tests? Their purpose is to measure how well students have learned the knowledge, skills, and practices articulated in Kentucky’s academic standards. The measurements from the tests are reported to students, families, and their teachers as numbers (scale scores) and as categories (novice, apprentice, proficient, or distinguished). These scores and categories provide information that can be used, along with evidence from a student’s work in school, to answer big questions such as: does the student need extra support to be ready for challenging work in the next grade or in high school? Because the state’s tests measure learning in the same away for students across the state, families can be assured that these scores mean the same thing across schools and districts.

    The information from these tests holds value beyond an individual student and their family. When put together, the scores can illuminate patterns and trends that help people who lead schools, school districts, and the state make better decisions about all the resources that go into student learning.

    You can think about state tests as a ruler used to measure pieces of fabric for a quilt. Not the fabric or the quilt itself, but simply the measurement tool.

    Simply? Those of you who have been in a quilting shop recently may have discovered that rulers vary a great deal in terms of quality. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and some have quite advanced measurement systems. Quilters know that measuring with accuracy and consistency matters.

    So too, state tests have varied in terms of quality and other critical attributes. Here are a few questions to ask about Kentucky's new statewide tests:
    1. What information will families and communities have about student learning in science and in other subjects, and for individual students and for schools and districts? By when? What information will teachers have? How will teachers and families talk together about student results?
    2. How will the tests provide meaningful information about student readiness or need for extra support for their next steps, such as the next grade?
    3. How well do the tests capture the full set of Kentucky’s academic standards, not only those standards that are easier to evaluate?
    4. Do the tests use a variety of strategies to evaluate student learning at different degrees of challenge?
    5. Does the state provide transparent, public information about the test, including information about the test design and released items from previous tests?
    6. How have educators from K-12 and higher education, as well as other critical shareholders, been involved in the development of the test? Has it been reviewed by outside assessment experts?

    You can find more about questions to evaluate test quality through these resources:

    This blog series has explored five different rationales for student testing – to help students learn, to inform educators, to clarify expectations, to benchmark performance, and to measure learning to help leaders make better decisions. But learning is at the heart.

    I leave you with a quote from Ron Berger, chief academic officer of EL Education, from an article in The 74 Million:

    “A defining thing about our schools is the quality of our work. In education, what’s talked about mostly are the test scores. Our schools do well on test scores; otherwise, we couldn’t stay robust in our work. However, what inspires kids is not those test scores. What inspires kids is their beautiful writing, their beautiful math work, their beautiful project work. They do work that they’re truly proud of.”

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