Do our Standardized Assessments fail our students?

As students here in Michigan are in the middle of the Fall cycle of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), I have to ask if these tests are doing what they were intended to do? The tests were originally designed to measure students academic achievement. Now the test are also used to measure the quality of school districts and as teacher evaluations have changed the data can be used to show student growth (or lack there of).

As I administer the tests this week I have really thought about how they work. First these test disrupt the normal school atmosphere, changing schedules. Announcements are made to asking students to do their best, get sleep and eat breakfast (notes also sent home to parents). Of course don’t we want students to get plenty of sleep, do their best and eat a proper diet every day? Of course but many school place an extra emphasis at this time of year. Many students stress about their performance on the test. Wanting to do well and try their best. Others (often with parental support) don’t care and see testing as an annoyance, rushing to finish so they can “do nothing” for the rest of the testing period. Since the tests are almost entirely multiple choice, they are limited in the type of questions they can ask. Often requiring students to know specific vocabulary or have content background knowledge.  This style of assessment has not changed since they were created. Has learning and teaching changed?

Teaching has changed so much!! Teachers spend time creating relationships with students to understand their learning style. Then learning activities are created to meet the individual student’s needs. Students are given choice in assignments and allowed to voice their preferences in how demonstrate knowledge. Many teachers give students freedom to express their learning in many different styles. Teachers are trained in questioning techniques to drawn student’s knowledge out. Most middle school classrooms rarely use the Multiple Choice format (except to practice for standardized tests).

Colleges have seen the flaws in relying solely on standardized test scores for admissions. Isn’t it time for K-12 education to create a better assessment system to measure student achievement? One that reflect best teaching practices?  We can do better and should.

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