Which season of the year is it?
Do I hear the echo of “Testing 1, 2, 3” as a microphone check from the press box before the announcer begins pre-game festivities? Or do I hear “Testing 1, 2, 3” as a part of Test Prep?
As an elementary student, I loved multiple choice assessments. Yes, those ovals were sometimes a challenge. Filling them in neatly. Not over-coloring. Staying inside the lines.
On testing days my bifocals would get a work out because I would literally almost put my nose on the passages as I absorbed the stories.. I put my heart and body into those tests and I loved getting the scores back because I would be praised for my work.
Because I scored well. I was typically able to make good guesses when I narrowed down the choices. Because I read quickly, I always had enough time to double check the passage to verify my answers. I agonized over my answers and spent time trying to do my very best work.
When tests are used to SORT students, it’s really hard to figure out if groups of students are actually progressing. And labels don’t help.
Case in point: NAEP Scores
Let’s look at a few characteristics of the NAEP test that is used as the “Nation’s Report Card”.
Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, or Advanced.
But what does this label tell me? Here is what “Basic” looks like for 4th Grade:
Many of the tasks listed in CCSS RL4.1-3 and RI.4.1-3 are included in “Basic” level. The NAEP page even contains a caution: “It should be noted that the NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade level proficiency as determined by other assessment standards (e.g., state or district assessments).” -Source
Why then does everyone think that “Proficient” is the goal?
So “below basic” still means a student can “demonstrate a literal understanding of what they read, understand a main idea from expository text, or follow a simple plot. “Below Basic” does not mean that the students cannot read. And that is worth repeating.
“Below Basic” does not mean that the students cannot read.
I’m not saying that high expectations and goals are not a part of our targets. But what I am asking you to do is think about the criteria, who sets it, and what they have to gain by reporting that “education is failing” as the press seems to quite often do.
Let’s take a bit of time to explore NAEP assessments.
Each test item in reading is labeled as one of these three:
- integrate/interpret, or
And the NAEP website shows this:
So by percentage distribution (and for the sake of a conversation with 10 questions as an example):
2 out of 10 are locate/recall
6 out of 10 are integrate/interpret and
2 out of 10 are critique/evaluate
So what does this look like? Are they all multiple choice (multiple guess) questions? Here’s a released sample from 2017 for fourth grade. You can check out additional samples or grade levels.
As you check out the sample, think about the skills and strategies that you, a proficient reader, use when you are reading.
Here are a few I thought of:
- preview the questions before beginning
- reread when stuck
- be sure to check out headings
- what do I need to remember about folk tales?
- wonder the impact of character’s names
- ask questions: What exactly is a “merchant”?
- reread to eliminate mc answers
- reread to affirm possible multiple choice answers
- reread to check your spelling for a constructed response
What is the ratio of the work that you ask students to do in your classroom on a daily basis? Is it
- 2 out of 10 are locate/recall
- 6 out of 10 are integrate/interpret and
- 2 out of 10 are critique/evaluate?
How much does the content of the assessment matter? How would you explain this to your students? Your fellow teachers? Your community? How are you thinking you would fare on this assessment?
And of course, the assessment is timed. Readers have 30 minutes to read one story and respond to 10 questions. They can reread.
But they seldom do.
They can reread, but they seldom do.
What is the thinking that students need to be able to do to be successful on this test?
What is the thinking that students need to do to be successful in life?
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this weekly forum. Check out the writers and readers here.
NAEP’s “proficient” is set considerably higher than grade level, as noted on the NAEP site. (This is a lesson that has to be relearned as often as NAEP scores are released.) – Peter Greene
NAEP is extraordinarily clear that folks should not try to suggest a causal relationship between scores and anything else. Everyone ignores that advice, but NAEP clearly acknowledges that there are too many factors at play here to focus on any single one. – Peter Greene