What is the goal of testing and data?

Data is a key component in education. Schools need to know where students are in their learning so instruction can be designed to meet students learning needs. Schools have always used data. We use data to help determine grades, know reading levels, math levels etc. Recently the government (State and Federal) has arbitrarily decided that the data schools have been collecting should be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers. The test design corporations, such as Pearson, create tests with little teacher input, to sell to states for the purpose of measuring students against a “standard”.  If students don’t achieve the standard, teachers can be deemed ineffective and eventually lead to the loss of their teaching position if low scores persist. Government has mandated this value add measure, with the desire to hold teachers accountable for their student’s learning. All the while placing little to no accountability on the student or parents for learning achievement.

So what is this data really? Is it a summary of everything a student has learned? Does it measure higher level thinking? Quite frequently the data is just a mere snapshot, of where a student is performing at a certain spot in time. Is it right to assume that a picture of a 75 degree sunny day is the norm for a Michigan Winter? No, but it happens. As well as a 30 degree snowy day in April. Like weather student performance can vary from day-to-day. Different events occur in their lives. Sleep and regularity of meals are major factors in student performance. Instead of looking at student day-to-day “Weather” data, schools should take a “climate” approach at looking at data. Look at performance over the long haul. Examine many different data point to see growth, over extended periods of time. Data should not only come from national standardize testing corporations but from locally created common tests as well. This does make it difficult to attribute the results to an individual teacher (current goal of testing) but shouldn’t the results belong to the individual student?

Students ultimately need to be held accountable for their own learning. There are many other ways to evaluate the quality of teaching. Learning is owned by the student. Schools goals are to make life-long learners who have critical thinking skills. These qualities develop at different rates in all learners. Just like all infants learn to walk and talk at different times in their life. To help hold the students more accountable, schools might want to change their structure. Instead of grouping students by age,  schools could group their by their skills and abilities or by their areas of interests or by learning styles.

The goal of testing and the resulting data, needs to remain student learning. Schools need to focus on holding students accountable for their own learning. Without being held accountable student frequently blame others for their results. I hear it often in my classroom, when discussion grades with students. “The teacher gave me a C!” We need to mold the conversation around students earning their scores. Right now, students see no relevance for most standardized tests. These test have little merit towards students’ grades or graduation. Colleges only focus on the FINAL standardized test of the student’s career, ACT or SAT for admittance.

If districts/states are going to mandate so many standardized test for our students, lets remember one thing: Make them focus on student achievement and their individual growth, not the effectiveness of teachers. Testing does not measure teachers, observations of practice and actions does. If teachers, performance is measured on tests we will end up with more cheating scandals like Atlanta!! More questions will arise about cheating in schools than we have had about cheating in baseball during the steroids area!

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