THE BLOG

Standardized Testing Alternative

03/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The idea of standardized tests is based on creating a normal curve. This means the tests have to be developed to insure that there are clear lines of differences. This translates into 60% are in the middle, 20 % are superior and 20% are inferior. This is absolute so with each test 20% of our students are labeled -inferior. Is it any wonder that so many of them drop out as soon as they can? This label is considered to be scientifically correct and then is used by teachers and administrators to prove that the student is functioning at an inferior level. They believe it and so do the student and his parents. This causes irreparable damage to his belief in his abilities! This does not have to be!

In ten years in my middle school At-Risk program I had as many gifted students as those in lower 20%. The gifted group was bored or had the audacity to challenge teachers and paid a price for thinking for themselves.

Although for years I knew more school decisions are political or social than educational, I couldn't come up with a reasonable alternative that would be acceptable to so many vested interests. I offer a fresh concept.

If standardized tests are to be used then all their questions (all have a bank of them used for different booklets) and the contexts they are taken from should be on the Net for everyone to see! This would mean everyone had the opportunity to learn what the nation believed were critical facts or concepts that all citizens should know. It would be specific for grade level and content area classes. Students, parents, and teachers could each determine the amount of extra or school time spent on test preparation.

Instead of a goal of 20% failures, the goal would be 100% success! This is a paradigm shift in thinking about how the tests should be used. Some individual students, parents, and teachers would be more highly motivated and would be more successful. There would still be a range in the natural abilities of all concerned and so some would still do a superior job.

The differences would be that each could choose how much effort to give to learning what are considered the most important facts and concepts for that grade level or content area class. Anyone in the country would have easy access to this information. Our entire country would have the opportunity to share in the concepts, facts, beliefs, and skills considered critical to be an educated person. Isn't an educated citizenry the major goal of a democratic society?

Standardized tests still could be used, but their impact on time spent preparing for them would be more practical since they would be only one part of student and teacher assessment. They would not be the only determiner of funding or any draconian consequences, but would be helpful in deciding what still needed to be taught. The major determiners would be what was actually taught and learned in each classroom and the best assessment would be the student computer portfolio.

It would be a more fair assessment of each student's actual progress and problems, but also a much more accurate evaluation of each teacher, school, and district.

As it stands now the teachers get the results of the Standardized Tests, but they are of little use. They are somewhat useful for the teacher for the class(es) that left as one method of evaluation of what was learned. Few teachers use the results to assess the incoming students because they are received months after the test. Tests are most beneficial when given by a teacher to assess how well she's taught the lesson generally and what the class needs to be taught again. It is most helpful to evaluate each student's progress and to determine how to meet that specific student's needs. These teacher or publisher made tests should immediately (a few days or weeks) follow what was taught for teacher feedback to plan the next lessons.

Unit tests or achievement tests demonstrate more long term and deeper understanding. All of these could be organized in individual student computer portfolios. These could be compared in countless ways and negate the need for Standardized Tests

No student, class, teacher, school, or district should be evaluated on the basis on any one test, especially one with the unreliability of so-called Standardized Tests. (I worked with J.P. Guilford, Professor Emeritus of USC and author of textbooks on testing, on standardizing one of his tests. I was disturbed at how inaccurate the best test can be, even after careful analysis.)

Presently the tests are a major focus of school concerns and have resulted in the lowest teacher morale that I've seen in fifty years.

With computer portfolios students, teachers, and parents would have to assume only a part of the accountability of the result. The playing field would still depend partly on inherent abilities, of teaching ability, but individual motivation would give more students a better chance.

This addresses the best uses of testing in assessing student progress and needs as well as a more reasonable and fair way to evaluate what the teacher is actually teaching. The political uses of testing would be greatly diminished.

My suggestions still give those with vested interests a piece off the financial pie, but there would be a major shift in freedom and power as students, teachers, and parents could assert their choices in ways presently impossible.

Teacher morale and effectiveness would improve. More teachers would remain in the profession or be attracted to it and fewer students would drop out. It is a win-win scenario.