After Cheating Concerns, Should Students Retake Standardized Test?
My colleague Jay Mathews called me last week and suggested I look at his latest column , which argued that students should retake a D.C. standardized test after questions arose about the number of erasures on exam sheets.
He predicted I would disagree with him. Jay, you were right. I do disagree.
The exam in question is the 2008 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test. Post reporter Bill Turque reported recently that more than 40 schools were “flagged” for having erasures several times above the city average, and that D.C. schools officials were slow in looking at the problem after it was raised.
The results of those exams were closely watched as evidence that Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s reforms in the battered school system were improving student achievement. Indeed, scores did go up in math and reading.
The CTB/McGraw-Hill expert who reported on the irregularities said no conclusions should be drawn about cheating--but, of course, doubts remain.
Were the erasures a result of cheating? Do students know the material?
Jay said students should retake the test to prove that they learned the subject matter.
He likened the situation to one in 1982 at Garfield High in East Los Angeles, where 14 students were suspected of cheating on an Advanced Placement calculus exam; 10 retook the exam and passed. Mathews, after years of research, learned that at least nine of the students had cheated on the first test, yet passed the second exam with flying colors.
The result was a realization that academic expectations for inner-city kids were too low. Mathews wrote a book about the Garfield math teacher Jaime Escalante, and a film was made, “Stand and Deliver,” based on the work.
Yet I see big differences in the situations. In the 1982 incident, students were accused of cheating.
In the current D.C. case, the suggestion is that teachers were thought to have been behind the changes on the test. Why? Because in today’s education world standardized test results impact teacher evaluations and even salary. In fact, teachers in D.C. schools whose test scores rose by 20 points received a bonus.
Why should students have to retake a test that adults may have messed up--especially if conditions under which the students take them have not changed?
--Creating an incentive for teachers to narrow what the teach to only what is tested: reading and math
--Encouraging cheating and effort to keep low-performing students from taking the test.
Another reason gets to the heart of a related question about whether kids should retake the test: Does a good standardized test score guarantee that a student has learned the material?
The answer, researchers say, is no, for many reasons.
Though the D.C. CAS test is untimed, many standardized tests are given with time limits, and those inherently favor kids who can work fast.
Test scores, too, are subject to all kinds of errors--measurement, statistical--as well as conditions that can affect a student but are never taken into account: sickness, bad lighting and a host of others.
Some readers don’t agree with me. On Monday The Answer Sheet asked whether teacher pay should be linked to test scores. Here are some of the responses:
From jbb3rd: “... A measure that takes into account improvement is tested levels could be devised for both the individual teachers and the school administrators as well. Student achievement levels depend on more than just good teaching, but teachers should be held accountable.”
Patrick Ewing: Among the many problems with teaching is an objective way to measure the quality of instruction. Relying solely on student scores with no mitigating factor creates perverse incentives for teachers to seek out high performing schools with high performing students.
... Jumps in test scores are not solely a product of quality instruction. Tutoring, remedial course work, individual attention from support specialists, and a variety of other factors may all help increase a student’s test score.
Linking job performance to pay is a logical step. Measuring teacher performance is not as easy as test scores though. Along with student improvement, peer evaluations, principle evaluations, and conforming to industry recognized best practices should all be taken into consideration when determining a teacher’s salary.
Further, teachers cannot be thrown to the wolves. Adequate support and training for those teachers who are underperforming, but have the desire to succeed must be provided. As it stands now, too many conferences are a waste, and teacher work days are for administrative tasks, not improving instruction.
aed3: Linking pay to performance is a good idea in theory. The real problem is how to evaluate the performance? There are many issues at stake, but one issue to think about is that the results of good teaching are often not evident for many years. Sometimes it’s the quiet, steady, unobtrusive kindergarten or first grade teacher who sets a student up for a lifetime of success.
But it is difficult to put great stock in standardized test scores when you know about the inherent limitations and the conditions under which they are given.
Read here a view from a D.C. teacher about giving the CAS to a special education student, and some responses.
And following are excerpts of a letter received by The Answer Sheet from Ken and Lisa McCallister of in Colorado, where standardized testing fever is running high as well:
Lisa and I just got home from curriculum night at our youngest daughter’s elementary school here in Littleton. The entire night from the principals "welcome" to the "grade specific orientation" for parents contained nothing but information related to CSAP [Colorado State Assessment Program test] The principal touched very lightly on safety issues related to hug and drop zones and then spent the remainder of his half hour on CSAP and the "growth movement" and ability to click on any student and track their progress over the years. There was no time allowed for parent questions to the principal. This "growth movement" tracking information is used to help "correct deficiencies" in the students’ learning progress.
The principal touted the large improvements in the CSAP scores for our school and pressed the parents to encourage their students to continue to do better each year in the "competition against" other area schools. Two of the other area schools close by that he wants to compete with are in the Ken Caryl Valley which is a very affluent area where money is not any sort of problem or second thought and "status" is very important to these parents. The other is another elementary school that pretty much "mirrors" our school, but, received better overall scores.
Apparently, this year will contain more "practice" for CSAP coming in many different forms to "coach" the students in order to be prepared for the actual CSAP testing. The principal as well as the teachers all acknowledged that there is "considerable anxiety" to the students involved with CSAP practice and testing. They encouraged all of us parents to help ease the anxiety and encourage them to do their very best.....
Our teacher knows that we opted our children out of CSAP and will continue to do so.
| September 16, 2009; 11:46 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Standardized Tests | Tags: D.C. Schools, Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Standardized Tests
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