Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pity the Poor Test Writer

Erik Bryan:

Whatever the meaning of the terms to define these standards, it’s hard to prove by testing that students are meeting them. Texas isn’t the only state guilty of gobbledygook. South Carolina third graders are expected to “read independently for extended periods of time for pleasure.” How do they teach this? How do you test it?

The Grade 8 New York English Language Arts Core Curriculum standards for listening comprehension skills insist that students must “respect the age, gender, social position, and cultural traditions of the speaker,” “withhold judgment,” and “appreciate the speaker’s uniqueness.” I’ve spent whole afternoons slamming my head on my desk writing practice tests, trying to come up with questions to address these requirements. I see wording like this in my nightmares. While these standards signal valuable, if not lofty, intentions for teenagers, they are almost impossible to assess in a standardized testing environment. Being asked to develop preparatory tests that align with these well-meaning, untestable standards is the hardest part of my job. Actually testing students on these dubious standards does them no great service, either.

To be clear: no other country regards standards as a specification for a standardized test, where easy "objective" measurement is a pre-requisite for a learning goal. Just because some kid who as been working in educational publishing for "two and a half years" doesn't know how to teach independent reading for pleasure, doesn't mean it can't and shouldn't be done.

More interesting than this not-very insightful piece itself is the meta-data: this link was forwarded to Alexander Russo by Mike Smith. No I don't think he means the inventor of the Smith Grind, but the one who is Senior Counselor to the Secretary, Director of International Affairs at the federal Department of Education Apparently it is a third Mike Smith. So this piece gives you a good sense of who the Common Core standards are really intended to benefit: the beleaguered test and textbook author.

Photo credit: J. GRANT BRITTAIN.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing that not so insightful editorial. For what it's worth, the NYS Standards he's talking about come from Standard #4: Speaking and Listening. These standards can only be assessed via performance tasks and NYS does not attempt to assess them using a recall measure such as the state assessment. My frustration with educational discourse online is growing exponentially.

Tom Hoffman said...

In practice, I think the best you could do with that standard is fold it into a broader wholistic assessment of listening. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to teach it!

At the expert feedback session on RttT assessment in Boston, at one point someone said something about not being able to use "traditional" assessment methods on speaking standards -- by which she meant the tradition of scanned bubble tests, etc.

I was thinking "Of course we 'traditionally' know how to assess speaking -- have the kid give a speech, listen to it, maybe fill in a rubric, give it a grade." That's it! It works fine!

mike said...

I'm the Mike Smith who sent the piece over to Alex and sadly I am not Senior Counselor to the Secretary Mike Smith.

Tom Hoffman said...

Oops. Corrected. I worked for a few years on a project where what "Mike Smith" was thinking was of prime concern, so I'm accustomed to the idea that there is a default "Mike Smith" in ed policy circles.

Tom Hoffman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.