Testing Experts to Grade Lawmakers
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
A national panel of testing experts has a message for state legislators: if teachers are going to be held responsible for raising test scores, then lawmakers will be held accountable for ensuring that statewide tests help students learn.
Building Tests To Support Instruction and Accountability: A Guide for Policymakers.
These guidelines for "responsible" statewide testing were released Tuesday (10/23) to prepare states to implement President George W. Bush's plan to test students annually in grades 3 through 8.
The panel that wrote the guidelines was commissioned by five national education groups that represent teachers, principals, superintendents and parents.
"We are going to turn things around a little today by making the policymakers accountable for making the quality tests that we need," said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, (AASA) one of the five sponsors.
The nine recommendations (see below) would more closely link what is taught in the classroom to the tests. And the panel wants the results written in a way that helps teachers identify what is working.
Panelists ask states to take the time they need, usually at least three years, to create the tests. And it wants states to give teachers training in how to use tests to help struggling students.
When David Shreve, an education policy expert for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) learned that policymakers would be held responsible for meeting the nine recommendations with annual report cards beginning next year, he laughed. " I'm sorry that is ironic - they (panel) want three years to develop the perfect accountability system for schools but they can develop the perfect accountability system for lawmakers in one year."
The coalition plans to grade states leniently for the first three years, presently not a single state test meets its recommendations. Most exams are not designed to test what students are learning in the classroom, and the results don't help teachers learn what is and isn't working for each child, the report says.
James Popham, head of the panel and former University of California, Los Angeles education professor, says that although many states have tried to develop good tests, "I've seen no test that helps teachers help kids learn."
For example, Florida's statewide exam is supposed to be a homemade test tailored to find out if the students are mastering reading, math and writing, says Popham. But after looking at the exam, he says instead of it being specific to Florida's learning standards, it looks almost identical to a national, ready-made test, the Standford-9.
Currently, states spend $400 million on testing and only a handful test in all the grades the Administration's bill would require.
NCSL's Shreve says states simply can't afford such expensive tests. "Sitting on my desk today is a Miami Herald story that says Florida's budget squeeze could effect schools and I am getting these clippings at a rate of three or four states a day."
AASA and NEA were joined by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Middle School Association in funding the panel which produced the report and will be monitoring state efforts.
Following is a synopsis of the nine recommendations in the report:
- States must prioritize and make clear which standards of learning should be stressed to support good teaching and good tests.
- States should make standards of learning clear so that teachers and schools understand exactly what students should know and be able to do.
- Test results should report how each student, school and district performed on each standard of learning.
- States should also test students in subjects that students are expected to know but that are not included on the statewide exam.
- States should monitor the curriculum and ensure that teachers give attention to all standards and all subject areas including those that are not tested annually.
- States need to provide alternative ways for students to demonstrate that they understand the material if they can't take a traditional test. This is usually an issue for the learning disabled, but the panel stressed that they want the statewide test to be of high enough quality that it can be given to as many students as possible.
- States should allow test developers at least three years to produce the statewide tests and the tests should satisfy guidelines such as those written in Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.
- States should train teachers so that they can use the data from the tests to help children learn.
- States should monitor progress and make sure tests are being used to enhance teaching, measure whether students have mastered the standards and don't cause negative consequences.