Monday, August 18, 2014

NPR: When High Stakes Testing Leads to Academic Triage

NPR's piece yesterday on the Atlanta cheating trial touches on broader points of how educators can find themselves moving from an accountability culture to academic rationing of time to meet standardized test expectations. NPR discusses how we may think of cheating as outlandish behavior but that high-stakes testing at any level (bar exam passage rates, anyone?) can lead educators to adopt tactics that fall short of cheating but are also educationally ineffective. From the NPR article:

Daniel Koretz, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert in educational testing, writes in Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, that there are seven potential teacher responses to high-stakes tests:

1. Working more effectively (example: finding better methods of teaching)

2. Teaching more (example: spending more time overall)

3. Working harder (example: giving more homework or harder assignments)

4. Reallocation (example: shifting resources, including time, to emphasize the subjects and types of questions on the test)

5. Alignment (example: matching the curriculum more closely to the material covered on the test)

6. Coaching students (example: prepping students using old tests or even the current test)

7. Cheating

Strategies 1 through 3 pretty much describe what high-stakes testing is supposed to do: raise standards, ignite harder effort from teachers and students, and produce more learning.

Strategies 6 and 7 clearly undermine the effectiveness of tests as a metric of learning, and hurt students in the process. Perhaps 95 percent of educators will never go there.

Strategy 4 (reallocation) and 5 (alignment) are ambiguous. If the test is high quality — if it captures all the most important subjects students need to know — then changing school to prioritize those subjects is, again, exactly what we want to see. In other words, if the test is excellent, then "teaching to the test" can be a very good thing.

On the other hand, if the test captures only a few of the subjects students need to know, or emphasizes, say, memorization over comprehension, then reallocation and alignment can cause students to miss out on other important parts of learning.

Read more here.

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