Monday, October 19, 2009

Testing Testing

This year is the first year schools in Maine are using the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).  In order to fulfill requirements of No Child Left Behind, NECAPs test students in grades three through eight in reading and math and are administered in the Fall to assess the previous year's teaching and learning.

In an elementary school I was in last week, a teacher administering the math test to her third graders noted that one student was tracing her hand on the test paper.  Concerned that the girl was creating an early holiday picture she asked what she was doing.  The girl replied that she had to explain how she had gotten her answer. "I counted on my fingers," she said.  Fair enough.  In response to the same instruction, another student wrote to the eventual evaluator: "Sorry.  I don't know."  The NECAP reading test has section laid out in columns.  In this particular school, the reading curriculum did not teach students to read in columns until the third grade.  Think about that from the student's point of view.  If you have never seen columns before, it looks strange, but everything you know tells you to just keep reading across from left to right.  Under the pressure of your first standardized test, think of the confusion that must set in, and even panic.

As long as we have standardized test we are never going to get away from the fact that at least some of what they measure is a student's ability to take standardized tests.  Knowing how to bubble efficiently, how to eliminate answers quickly in a  multiple choice, how to preview questions when reading for comprehension are just some of the skills that can make for a better score.  This is at least one reason such testing always needs to be put in perspective.

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