What do we do with these results?

So the data is in from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program(MEAP) Fall 2014 8th grade  science test.  Doesn’t look good, 20 % of students in the state were proficient 55% Not proficient at all. Staggering numbers to say the least. To really understand the MEAP science results one needs to understand the testing cycle. The 8th grade test is given in October covering standards taught from 5th grade through 7th grade. Due to limitations on the number of questions on the test (around 40) MEAP test questions narrowly focus on just a few units of study covered over a 3 year span and cover  general science processing skills. The science test is given as the last assessment for the students to take in the state assessment program so they are a little tired of testing. These test are used to grade the schools and districts but have little to no meaning to the students. Grades are not effected, proficiency is not required. As a science teacher I am ashamed of these scores. What do I do?

Are the results an accurate measure of Michigan’s students science ability? We still have students going to college to be doctors and engineers. Maybe they are the 20% proficient in 8th grade. Should this large a group score so poorly on any test? I don’t think so. When I have gotten similar results in my classroom, it is time to re-examine the curriculum used, how it was delivered and if it lines up with the test. Obviously something is amiss here. When looking at the science MEAP trend:

It is even more troubling. Out of all the students in the state of Michigan less than 20% have been proficient for 5 strait years. This is totally discouraging as a science teacher. 5 years with only minor improvement. One would think the test would be changed to give the educators and districts better feedback as to how their programs were working. With these results it just looks like schools are not teaching much in the way of science. Is that the case? DO districts focus so much on math, reading and writing because they are tested every year and let science slip to the wayside?

The state of Michigan needs to examine this test, adjust it to measure the skills taught. Make sure that the questions are above the knowledge level with out being vocabulary specific. Or better yet stop wasting money on a test that doesn’t give us results that can be used to help our students learn.

It reminds me of a story my younger brother shared when in college. Philip was a graduate student at Duke, taking an undergrad prerequisite at UNC. His professor had to talk to with him because he ruined the curve. He received scored a 96% on a test that the class average was 35%. The professor wanted to curve the test but Philip’s score would not allow him to curve it equally for all students so the professor had to explain his actions. As my brother shared the story he state, “It is ridiculous to create a test that the majority of your students fail.”  My sentiments for the Science MEAP!

MEAP Data screen-shots from www.mischooldata.org

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.