Saturday, November 8, 2008

We Must Be a NUT (No Unnecessary Testing)

Almost every major issue facing teachers in NYC (and elsewhere) can be linked to the evils of high stakes testing. Closing schools based on tests leads to Teacher Reserves. Narrow curriculum. Bored students. More discipline problems as a result. Yet the UFT, while paying lip service to the concept there is too much testing, has gone along with most of the Bloomberg/Klein/market-based no nothing education engineers: merit pay, rating teachers based on tests, no opposition to closing schools, etc. The UFY clearly has a stake in the merit pay program as they ran workshops jointly with the DOE accountability people and when one of the Justice Not Just Tests reps tried to raise objections he was not exactly treated with courtesy by one of the UFT leaders, Michael Mendel. I've been working with the Justice Not Just Tests on a campaign to reach into the schools and get teachers to join us by creating such a massive movement in the UFT the leadership will be forced to notice.

Here is an excellent piece by Steven Krashen. Become a NUT in your school.

The Fundamental Principle: No Unnecessary Testing (NUT)

Stephen Krashen
The Colorado Communicator vol 32,1. Page 7, 2008

No Unnecessary Testing (NUT) is the principle that school should include only those tests and parts of tests that are necessary, that contribute to essential evaluation and learning. Every minute testing and doing “test preparation” (activities to boost scores on tests that do not involve genuine learning) is stolen from students’ lives, in addition to costing money that we cannot afford these days, with serious budget problems in American schools.

If we accept the NUT principle, it leads to this question: Do we need yearly standardized tests closely linked to the curriculum? Do they tell us more than teacher evaluation does? This issue must be looked at scientifically. If, for example, the current CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) test is shortened and/or given less frequently or abandoned, will student performance be affected? Would Colorado’s NAEP scores (already quite high) be affected?

My prediction is that teacher evaluation does a better job of evaluating students than standardized testing: The repeated judgments of professionals who are with children every day is probably more valid that a test created by distant strangers. Moreover, teacher evaluations are “multiple measures,” are closely aligned to the curriculum, and cover more than just math and reading.

There is some evidence supporting this view for high school students: Research by UC Berkeley scholars Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Saltelices shows that high school grades in college preparatory courses are a better predictor of achievement in college and four-year college graduation rates than are standardized tests (the SAT). Geiser and Saltelices found that adding SAT scores to grades did not provide much more information than grades alone, which suggests that we may not need standardized tests at all.

For those who argue that we need standardized tests in order to compare student achievement over time and to compare subgroups of students, we already have a good instrument for this, the NAEP. The NAEP is administered to small groups of children, who each take a portion of the test, every few years. Results are extrapolated to estimate how the larger groups would score. No test prep is done, as the tests are zero stakes: There are no (or should be no) consequences for low or high scores. If we are interested in a general picture of how children are doing, this is the way to do it. If we are interested in finding out about a patient’s health, we only need to look at a small sample of their blood, not all of it.

My predictions, however, need to be put to the empirical test. A conservative path is to start to cut back on standardized tests, both in length and frequency, and determine if this has any negative consequences. This is an essential move now, when funds are so scarce, and it is an essential exercise of our responsibility to students.

Geiser, S. and Santelices, M.V., 2007. Validity of high-school grades in predicting student success beyond the freshman year: High-school record vs. standardized tests as indicators of four-year college outcomes. Research and Occasional Papers Series: CSHE 6.07, University of California, Berkeley. Thanks to Geoff for this.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.