Rethinking Standardized Testing

One of the more dicey dialogues I was part of at this year’s EdcampMN was on exploring the idea of using an LMS to make one-shot standardized testing obsolete.  This topic, proposed by Dan McGuire, was interesting because it was not really an argument against the use of standardized testing but a rethinking of how it might be deployed.  Dan asked us to ponder if course content were properly aligned with the content standards, and we used an LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, Conexux, Schoolology, etc.) to periodically test students while they were in the process of taking the course, would there be a need for a single shot high stakes test?

In the notes for this session there is a link to an interesting New York Times article that discusses how testing can help make us smarter. That article promotes an idea similar to that of Dan’s arguing that smaller tests given more frequently can actually help us with our retention of information and better at reading for content. But what about domains of learning that do not focus on information recall or computation?

I left this session thinking that breaking up the test and embedding them in courses would help to address some issues students have of test anxiety.  It might also be a better measure of how well a teacher taught the content.  But, I am a a bit skeptical.  Would employing such a method only work to reinforce the already strong trend to eliminate or at least reduce resources spent on content areas not easily tested?  Short of doing away with them altogether, how else might standardized testing be re-envisioned? 


5 thoughts on “Rethinking Standardized Testing

  1. I agree with what Michael said above. If the built-in assessments are written at a higher level, not just recall, then they could be effective. However, if tests/quizzes are embedded throughout the LMS, wouldn’t these serve as more of a formative assessment of student learning; a system of checks and balances along the way? In reference to the MCA-III Science Test, this test measures application of content as well as skills, interpretation, and analysis, a summative assessment of student learning-what they know and can do. The ability to recall information is not as important in today’s society. We do have Google after all.

    I would think that in order for this form of testing to come to fruition, everyone, statewide, would have to adopt the same LMS. A lot of work would need to be done including writing and embedding meaningful assessments along the way. Although this may be a good idea in theory, it would take a major overhaul.

    I do think that it is important for students to be able to practice what they have learned prior to taking an exam. According to the NY Times article, “practice in accessing or applying what the students know” will improve test scores. In my biology class, I provide daily prompts that students record in their notebooks. Students keep these questions in mind as they learn the lesson of the day. These prompts are actually test questions. I also do two different reviews, a clicker-quiz which is multiple choice (allowing students to practice anonymously), and a jeopardy-style review where students must speak their answers in front of the rest of the class. These techniques allow for discussion and provide me with an opportunity to eliminate misconceptions. All of these strategies allow students to put what they have learned into practice prior to taking the summative exam.

    If students ace a quiz about something that they have just been exposed to, have they really learned the content? Could they really apply it? Have they mastered the skills that accompany this knowledge? If a week, a month, several months, a year passes prior to the test, and they ace it, doesn’t this demonstrate true learning?

    Standardized testing is a way to compare students across the state and across the nation. At this point, I cannot think of a better way to do this.

    • Jennifer, I agree with several of your statements. Although many educators dislike standardized tests for many reasons, “standardizing” the way the learning/assessment occurs in the classroom through the use of a uniform LMS sounds a bit intrusive to the art of teaching, thereby potentially making it more difficult to connect with and differentiate learning experiences for students. Not to mention the enormous potential impact for the need to access certain “standardized” technology tools or platforms in addition to those already required by standardized testing.

      (Disclaimer: I had a brief discussion with someone at Edcamp about the use of acronyms in education. They can be a bit trendy at times and tend to alienate people who feel they should know the terms, lest they feel incompetent in their chosen career. Honestly, in this reference, I’m not certain my understanding of “LMS” would have the same working definition as the rest of us in this discussion because this is a new acronym for me. In this case, does it mean “Learning Management System?” I am trying to employ the skills “good readers” use to figure this out, just like I would ask students to do. I feel it is important to be on the same page as others in the discussion and move forward with the same understanding of the issue at hand. Thanks all!)

  2. After reading the article “How Tests Make Us Smarter,” I was reminded of the added benefits of promoting regular, low-stakes assessment in the classroom. Not only does this fill the need for formative assessment, but also aids students in practicing the skill of information and skill retention. As stated in the article, “Students in classes with a regimen of regular low- or no-stakes quizzing carry their learning forward through the term, like compounded interest, and they come to embrace the regimen, even if they are skeptical at first. A little studying suffices at exam time — no cramming required.” Carl, you had posed the question, “But what about domains of learning that do not focus on information recall or computation?” Can’t these forms of periodic recall and performance also apply to physical education, woodworking, or family and consumer science classes? Yes, more than simple retrieval of knowledge is necessary, but we can offer brief ways of recalling and practicing skills learned in these settings to help the skills stick, as referred to in the article itself when discussing how to improve when hitting different baseball pitches.

    One other quick thought I had while reading the article is that this type of “sprinkled in” assessment can be fun for students! Think about the routine of playing a jeopardy-type quiz game, with or without competition, or getting the chance to fine-tune a particular woodworking skill in a quiz-type format. If presented in an engaging and non-threatening way, students often buy-in to the assessments more and put forth more effort as well. Sometimes the method of practicing, or being assessed, can provide the motivation students need to do their best.

  3. You make some great points here, Deb. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect”. I like how you related the ideas to skill-based courses. A student could, in a quiz-type setting, demonstrate a particular wood-working skill. I have my biology students take a “focus test” on the microscope so that I know that they are all comfortable will focusing. The goal is to get them to be proficient at it. But, because it is a “test”, they try very hard to do it. For the ones that struggle, I help them and then let them retest. The test is 20 points, but they take comfort in knowing that they are able to improve and retest if need be.

    I think the teacher needs to make learning fun. Many students enjoy playing review games or doing clicker quizzes with the class. According to the NY Times Article, “researchers have also found that the most common study strategies — like underlining, highlighting and rereading — create illusions of mastery but are largely wasted effort, because they do not involve practice in accessing or applying what the students know”. I think that when these “old-school” skills are combined with assessment practice, students will find success.

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