One way to reduce standardized test load--make them shorter
Terry Paul, co-founder with his wife Judi of Renaissance Learning, Inc., gave me recently a draft of a short paper he has written suggesting a way to reduce the strain of state testing under the No Child Left Behind Act, or whatever replaces it. He says we should emulate the tests his company's Accelerated Reader program gives to ensure students understand books they have read. That means making the tests short, maybe as little as 15 minutes.
This idea is too wild to go anywhere, but Paul is no nut. He is a thoughtful businessman who helped create the nation's most successful program for encouraging book reading. He notes research that indicates a 15 minute test can "provide similar reliability to a 50 minute paper assessment."
I can't find his paper, "Thoughts on Testing Arising from the Common Core State Standards Movement," anywhere on the Internet. When it goes up I will let you know. He applauds the hard work states are doing to produce learning standards and tests they can all agree on. But if that happens, he says, they should start testing quickly and try to shorten testing time so even schools with few computers can have their kids take the exams online.
Although he doesn't exactly say so, I sense he hopes this will bring to this enterprise the wonders of adaptive testing---computerized exams that change questions depending on how the child is performing and pinpoint weaknesses to help teachers.
If the common core standards are ready this spring, he says, the first tests based on them should be given to everyone the following spring. This can be done by including in the first tests just those elements that are ready to go, and add more complex features later.
He said he recognizes that the purpose of the state tests--often called summative tests--is to measure how well schools and districts are doing. But there could also be interim tests--often called formative tests-- that adhere to the standards, but produce quick results that teachers can use. "With a shorter, more efficient summative test coupled with more and better interim assessments, the overall testing system can be more balanced and coherent, and just plain better to accelerate student achievement," he wrote.
I am one of those skeptics that don't believe the common core standards are ever going to succeed, because they are being drawn up by committees. But I could be wrong. If they figure out a way to make shorter, smarter and more useful tests, that would merit some attention.
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| December 23, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Accelerated Reader, Terry Paul, computer adaptive tests, formative tests, shortening tests, state tests, summative tests
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