wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost

The Post Most: Local

Answer Sheet
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/18/2012

How standardized tests are affecting public schools

Florida’s standardized testing program is being misused and has “severely impacted student learning,” according to a new white paper that says that school districts in the state are required to give as many as 62 tests a year to students.

The white paper, called “The Ramifications of Standardized Testing on our Public Schools,” was just released by the Central Florida School Board Coalition, a group of top officials from 10 school districts.

While the specifics are about Florida, the general conclusions about the negative impact of state standardized programs are relevant across the country — not only because other states have their own version but because some looked to Florida as a model as they developed their own school accountability systems.

The white paper that follows is long but worth your time. It points out in great detail the negative effects on students and teachers of Florida’s testing program, and shows convincingly that the testing program is being used in ways that it was never intended.

Here’s the white paper. Read it.

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, the impact of high stakes testing and accountability in the State of Florida has come into question for policy makers, educators, parents, and students alike. This remains a difficult subject to tackle as many recognize the necessity and value of accountability in ensuring basic literacy and numeracy in students, but question the current method of choice. In order to better understand the full scope of the impact of the current high stakes testing in the State of Florida, this paper addresses the following questions:

1.What is the history of high stakes testing in the State of Florida and who is driving the legislation?

2.What is the intended use of the testing?

3.What is the correlation in data between student success and testing?

4.What are the costs on resources incurred at the district, school, and individual classroom levels?

5.What is the actual composition of Florida’s high stakes tests?

This white paper is not designed to be an exhaustive analysis of every issue surrounding this topic, but rather, it is an attempt to deepen the understanding of the impact of Florida’s intense focus on testing and accountability. This paper aims to provide a source of information for parents, educators, and community members on some of the unintended outcomes of the state accountability system. This paper will equip stakeholders with the information necessary to fuel grassroots efforts for change to educational policy on high stakes testing.

THE HISTORY OF HIGH STAKES TESTING

A brief overview of the progression of high stakes testing in the State of Florida highlights the mounting misuse of the testing. Beginning in 1995, the original Sunshine State Standards were developed as part of achieving the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability’s goal for creating a procedure for assessing student learning to raise educational expectations for students and help them compete in the global market. In 1998 (after its initial field testing), the first FCAT was field tested in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 in reading and math and the first Florida Writes exam was tested in grades 4, 8, and 10. As of 2011, testing has progressed to include:

FCAT 2.0 Reading in grades 3 – 10

FCAT 2.0 Math in grades 3 – 8

FCAT Writing in grades 4, 8, and 10

FCAT Science in grades 5, 8, and 11

FAIR testing (K-2) one to one with teacher

FAIR testing (3-12) computer based testing.

NAEP in grades 4, 8, and 12

EOC Algebra 1 in grades 8, 9, and 10

EOC Biology in grade 8

EOC Geometry in grade 10

EOC U.S. History in grade 11

PERT Math in grade 11

PERT Reading in grade 11

PERT Writing in grade 11

FCAT Reading & Math retakes through grade 12

PERT retakes through grade 12

An enormous increase simply in the sheer quantity of testing has occurred in the State of Florida within the last decade and a half.

Moreover, the use of the results of tests has changed. For example, as of 1999, FCAT results assign school grades. In 2001, the Florida State Board of Education established the FCAT passing score as a requirement of the regular high school diploma. In 2002, AYP (as part of the NCLB law expectation of one hundred percent proficiency by 2014) was added to as part of the school score. Student performance bars have been subsequently raised to set passing scores for class. Students are required to have a passing score for class credit in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Biology, and required passing scores for college class placements. Arguably, the standards have become too high to actually meet, for example, in 2011 only 39% of 10th grade students passed the FCAT 2.0 Reading. This has also come to include mandated grade retentions, mandated additional instructional time, and mandated intensive remediation classes for students in middle and high school levels. Additionally, school grades now include FCAT Science grades, learning gains within the lowest twenty-fifth percentile, graduation rates, and accelerated coursework offerings. Within the last fifteen years, the sheer quantity of testing, the standards of passing, and the use of testing have increased well beyond their initial beginnings and limits.

THE INTENDED USE OF TESTING

The Florida Department of Education’s stated purposes of student assessment testing programs do not align with the current actual uses of its programs. According to the FDOE website, FCAT “was designed to measure achievement of the Sunshine State Standards.” Moreover, the stated primary goal of these assessments is to “provide information needed to improve the public schools by enhancing the learning gains of all students and to inform parents of the educational progress of their public school children.” Neither of these goals refers to assigning eligibility or grades for the students or assessing the public schools based on these assessments; they only discuss the informing of students’ progress and achievements. These stated goals are not negative in content; rather they simply do not match the current functions and usage of Florida’s student assessment testing. They were not intended to be punitive but are used as such. For example, Florida utilizes its assessment testing results as part of the requirement for course credit, as a component of course grades (up to thirty percent in some courses), and as a graduation eligibility requirement. Considering that even the Pearson Company states that its tests are “intended to be used as tools in the overall assessment process and are not designed to be used alone or to replace the professional judgment,” one can only question why the Department of Education is attempting to do just that. Additionally, the current testing and subsequent learning environment does not enhance learning gains but instead creates a more stressful, restricted, and fear-driven learning environment. To say the least, the originally stated goals do not include these current uses of the tests on the student.

Moreover, Florida assessment testing also results in monetary consequences for both the school and the teachers themselves, once more over stepping the intended goals of the testing. For instance, as of March 2011, testing results and the subsequent student learning gains will encompass at least half of an educator’s evaluation and salary will be dependent on these. Even layoffs will be determined by student performance. These large consequences to the student and the teacher and the school make this type of assessment testing “high stakes.” The intended objectives of student assessment testing are not problematic, in itself, rather the current uses of the assessment testing simply do not fall within the intended uses and indeed hinder the stated goals.

THE RESEARCH DATA ON STUDENT SUCCESS AND TESTING

The current data on schools and their subsequent grades reveals that the high stakes testing is not corresponding to high performance across the board. Table 1 below shows the overall breakdown of Florida school grades in 2011.

Table 1 – 2011 Overall School Grade Breakdown

Grade/ # of Schools / % of Schools

A ....../... 1,636 .........../... 54%

B......./.......684............/... 23%

C......./.......537.........../.... 18%

D......./......143.........../..... 5%

F......../.......38.........../........1%

Total /.....3,038......................

This data shows that 94% of schools received passing grades, which all can agree represents a wonderful overall picture. And yet, this table does not show the variability that Florida high-stakes testing can produce. Using the simulation data provided by the Florida Dept. of Education, Accountability Research and Measurement, the influence of potential changes becomes very evident. For example, merely including the new cut scores for FCAT 2.0 and Algebra 1 included in performance only, the number of passing schools immediately drops to only 87%. Even more shocking, by just including the new learning gains calculation for EOCs and student remaining at FCAT and EOC levels 1 and 2, the number of passing schools drops even further to barely 82%. With this one switch in calculation, the overall picture changes drastically, moving from only 1 in 20 schools failing to approximately 1 in every 5 schools failing . These simulations show how variable the current school grades truly are. More so, one can only imagine given the continual change in calculation requirements how schools manage to maintain a constant level of performance.

In the same way, an analysis of overall student FCAT achievement levels for each grade reveals a similar trend. In 2011, only 59% of fourth graders passed the FCAT 2.0 Reading. Unfortunately, this low percentage was actually the largest passing percent in all the grades 3-12, with only 51% of 9th graders passing as the lowest. Similarly, the FCAT 2.0 Mathematics and Algebra 1 EOC Assessment in 2011 for grades 3-8, only 53-58% of students passed the exams. In both of these areas, reading and math, these statistics only work to reflect how Florida’s high stakes testing standards only allow for half of every grade to fail in its tests, rather than help its students achieve success. Likewise, individual scores are as variable and dropping as the school grades they help make up.

THE INCURRED COSTS OF RESOURCES

Florida’s state assessment and accountability program expends disproportionate fiscal and human resources on the production of tests, testing materials, distribution, scoring, dissemination of results, school grading, prep materials, and supplementary test materials to support the retake process, and communication and enforcement of stringent testing protocols. Excluding the costs related to equipment, printing, and related school staff hours of prep, testing, scoring and reporting, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt approximates the annual cost of testing at $424,000 with Pearson approximating the annual cost of their tests at $59,000,000. Given the extensive requirements surrounding state assessment, these tests and their mandates would cost schools and districts in more than just the fiscal cost of the bare test themselves.

This section attempts to unveil and quantify the resources necessary to administer state assessments in the manner required by FDOE. Schools and districts must utilize personnel and financial resources to prepare, schedule, store, transport and administer state assessments. Additionally, the state requires that school districts identify and continuously utilize progress-monitoring and diagnostic assessments, purchase computers for testing, upgrade existing hardware and computer infrastructures, provide certificated test administrators and assign proctors in each testing environment. Schools and districts must purchase instructional materials to support the testing format, schedule and execute test administration training, identify available staff and facilities for test administration, reschedule classes and employee work schedules, and assign special couriers to deliver and retrieve tests. Florida’s extensive testing program and its highly-controlled testing protocols force school and district leaders to tap resources created to support students and use them to comply with state testing directives. To begin with, the State of Florida does not fund high stakes testing or it’s accompanying testing requirements. As a result, schools and districts must divert funding once used for hiring teachers, providing academic support for ESE, ESOL, and struggling students, offering summer learning programs, maintaining school facilities, training teachers, establishing competitive salaries to attract and keep good teachers, etc. in order to meet excessively strict testing requirements. In addition, schools incur a tremendous loss of instructional time, which impacts those students already performing below grade level most severely, resulting in even greater deficits for these students compared to their peers.

Their budgets must be used for training, test security, purchase of computers, substitutes, and purchasing instructional programs designed to improve students’ FCAT scores. Some specific requirements and incurred financial costs include:

For Schools:

* State mandated practice tests must be printed and copied by each individual school, with some schools reporting extensive costs on this one expenditure.

* In order to have enough administering and proctoring personnel for the state assessments, schools require substitutes. A typical elementary school of ~700 students reported spending approximately $2500 of their operating school budget and a large high school reported spending $15,000 on this same expenditure.

* Test materials must be stored and handled according to strict test security protocol. Thus, many schools must invest in re-keying cabinets and doors. Likewise, schools must use special couriers to deliver and pick-up the secure items resulting in additional cost of for gas consumption, vehicle maintenance and staff hours.

* Due to the late return of test results, schools must mail the results for those students whose parents cannot pick up the reports. These are additional expenses.

* Schools must align themselves to any shift of assessment standards and use instructional material allocations to do so. For instance, schools currently are adjusting the curriculum with the shift to FCAT 2.0 standards. Additionally, an associated cost here is that each rewrite of the standards prompts new editions of textbooks ancillary materials, and progress monitoring materials. Some schools have spent additional dollars to do this already and this cost will occur again with the onset of the Common Core State Standards and the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

* New legislation (HB 7059) relative to the EOC exams calls for credit-based FTE. FTE for each course will be equal to 1/6 FTE and will be adjusted only after successful completion of the exam. In the event a student does not receive the designated EOC exam score, the school will not receive the student’s FTE for that course. Florida remains the only state that removes funding if a student does not pass the EOC exam.

For Districts:

* Computer-based testing protocols require the purchase of additional computers, as well as increased bandwidth, both of which must come out of the district operating dollars. This current year, one district reported spending approximately $18,000 to purchase new computers for the sole purpose of adhering to computerized testing requirements. That same district estimated the cost of providing the electricity, data cables, network switch and twenty-four furniture stations in each cost nearly $19,000 per lab. Establishing the nine labs needed for the 2012 FCAT cost the district roughly $172,000.

* In the coming 2012-2013 school year, many students in specific grades will be tested on line, mounting costs higher. Aside from establishing labs (see above), some schools are out of space and will need portables. Moving and running electricity to one existing portable costs a district $35,000. Costs will multiply should districts need to lease or purchase additional portable classrooms. This added cost will also occur with the implementation of PARCC and its required computer-based testing for grades 3 and 4.

* Districts are charged with identifying, purchasing, and utilizing progress-monitoring and diagnostic assessments to support students who score poorly on FCAT Reading and Mathematics.

Regardless of whether the school or the district bears the financial costs, Florida’s high stakes testing harms the whole system by causing its limited monetary resources to be spent, not on student learning and development, but merely on maintaining testing requirements.

Likewise, in order to keep up with the ever-changing legislation and requirements for testing, districts must also conduct a variety of training sessions in order to ensure that every staff member responsible for test security, coordination, and administration complies with state mandates. This costs districts the financial expense of having to pay for housing, training, and travel. In addition, this also costs districts loss of faculty. As of late March, administrators reported ten different sessions for test administrators and proctors: CELLA, FAA, FAIR, FCAT Retakes, EOC winter, FCAT CBT, EOC Spring, FCAT RMS, FCAT Retakes, and EOC Summer. One district even reported that it offered up to twelve specific training sessions annually to keep up with the testing seasons. This is a challenging task for the District Testing Administrator, but it has an even greater impact on school-based testing coordinators who must also fulfill the day-to-day job responsibilities of their full-time positions. Moreover, the intensive training takes away the time normally used for school improvement efforts, parent conferences, PLC meetings, and administrative classroom observations. The excessive training costs the districts monetary resources to fund the actual training sessions, but it also costs the districts in overworking the educators and overusing their time.

Due to the enormity of Florida’s testing program and its accompanying responsibilities relative to testing protocols, every available person in the district remains a viable candidate for administering or proctoring state assessments. As a result, school and district personnel become costs of testing, as they are consistently pulled from routine job responsibilities in order to prepare test materials, administer and proctor tests and meticulously pack test materials for pick-up. This includes make-up sessions that can last for weeks depending on the testing window. Nearly all personnel at a school and significant numbers of staff at the district level are displaced during the course of testing, leaving these professionals with less time to work with students or perform job responsibilities critical to the district’s mission. Personnel whose roles change during testing periods are illustrated below:

* Because only certificated personnel may assess, K-2 teachers are frequently called upon to administer tests, leaving their students to be served by substitute teachers.

* ESE teachers and Speech/Language Teachers who serve students on a resource basis must cancel their time with students in order to administer assessments.

* School Counselors often assist with organization of materials as well as with test administration, removing them from tasks such as counseling students, monitoring graduation requirements, meeting with teachers and parents about student needs, and leading the process for multi-tiered student services.

* All personnel who do not have a full class of students are tied up with one-on-one and small group testing, which often takes 3 days to complete for all students.

* Instructional assistants, childcare workers, and clerical staff (administrative assistants, bookkeepers, and clerks) are utilized as proctors or monitors in the classroom to ensure test protocols are followed. Often, only one employee is left to manage the school’s front office. Additionally, even when not needed for proctoring, these individuals often cover supervisory duties vacated by test coordinators and administrators.

* District resource personnel are also pulled from their jobs to administer or proctor the testing.

* One elementary school reported that every teacher and assistant in the school, and 10 staff members from another school will be involved in testing this year, with the test administration team totaling more than 80 staff members.

* Test results come back so late that summer clerical personnel must be pulled from their job responsibilities to distribute and/or mail test results to students’ homes. Many reported experiencing constant interruptions throughout the summer in order to retrieve test results for parents.

Clearly, a significant amount of teachers’ time that should be devoted to instruction, improving practice and spending time in classrooms is instead spent supporting state assessment efforts. Additionally, multiple staff members spend a great deal of time scheduling and planning these assessments, as well as rescheduling the school day and previously scheduled school events to accommodate the testing schedule. This takes a considerable amount of time and frequently results in reduced services. Examples include:

* Revision of custodial schedules resulting in a reduction of facility maintenance to include minimal services only.

* Because non-tested students must be placed in a classroom, elective teachers are asked to manage larger class sizes, requiring them to adjust plans and/or locations to accommodate additional students.

* There are a limited number of employees available to cover supervisory duties. During testing periods at elementary schools, those assigned to the cafeteria duty supervise upwards of 2.5 hours, which takes these personnel away from their daily job responsibilities.

* Test Coordinators participate in mandatory training after school, then schedule training for test administrators and proctors. In order to attend training, all must revise work schedules and often arrange childcare for their school-aged children.

* Athletic Directors must re-schedule events and adjust start times of events when called upon to administer tests and when athletic facilities must be used during the testing window.

Florida’s current testing leads to losses of time to both job responsibilities and class instructional time.

Furthermore, the extensive testing schedule and the large numbers of students who must be tested costs schools in disruptions to the learning environment in an effort to provide the optimum testing settings. The testing environment takes precedence over student learning, leaving students without their teachers of record to conduct lessons and without the classroom or lab that was conducive to student learning, and often requires that student to report to “holding” areas while their teachers, labs and classrooms are needed for testing. Some examples of changes to the learning environment, both in facility use and daily setting, include:

* Schools are closed to parent volunteers while testing is in progress.

* Schools with students with specialized learning plans, such as ESE, 504, and ELL students, also must accommodate facilities during testing to meet these needs. For example, one large elementary school reported that last year twenty-two small-group test administrations were necessary in order to accommodate these students. Every vacant room in the building was utilized in order to facilitate small-group testing. They were not only short rooms in which to test, but were also short chairs and desks to put into rooms that do not normally house students.

* Teachers who are not testing are required to move from their classrooms in order to accommodate test sites. These teachers also have to remove or cover instructional materials (which can be extensive) from the students’ sight (i.e. word walls), as required by testing mandates.

* The state assessment window conflicts with the Advanced Placement (AP) testing schedule, further taxing facilities resources. This overlap of test administration windows is problematic when attempting to identify enough physical spaces to administer the assessments.

* Few schools have enough labs to accommodate the FAIR and FCAT testing window overlap, making it nearly impossible to finish testing within the specified testing schedules. Some students will see the FCAT a day or as much as one week in advance of their classmates, thereby making a mockery of the idea of test security and all but nullifying the validity and reliability of the results.

* The creation of additional computer labs needed to comply with testing requirements eliminated classroom space, thereby creating a need for a large number of teachers to conduct class in a different location each period because they do not have a classroom of their own.

* Building administrators must make significant changes to activity schedules, teacher schedules, teacher planning times, lunch schedules, the elementary extended PE schedule, and many other daily operations in order to ensure all testing and make-up sessions can occur within the FCAT administration window. The testing process disrupts nearly every schedule within a school, which is extremely disrupting to student routines and optimum instructional practices to which teachers are evaluated on.

* Custodial staff must often setup testing sites and then quickly break down those sites so that teachers can hold class.

* Clerical staff must coordinate bells and supervisory coverage during testing windows.

* Although most test administrators are the teachers of the students testing, very few have “pure” schedules and usually have non-testers who are then not receiving planned instruction on test days. For example, CTE teachers do have classrooms for more than 10 days during the spring testing season due to EOCs and FCAT.

* The logistics of testing and movement of sites cause challenges to keep accurate attendance data and in trying to locate students for check out.

Additionally, the accommodation of both the practice tests and the state assessments results in a cost to computer labs, which are booked for three full months during the nine-month long school year. This booking is due to many necessities. For instance, software downloads and maintenance in preparation for testing necessitates the “closing down” of computer labs to teachers prior to ePAT, FCAT, and EOC testing in February. Computer labs are now being used for assessments and for practicing the tools of online testing. As a result, they are unavailable for actual classroom instructional purposes. Even more, not all schools are equipped to handle the needed computer amounts. For example, one large elementary school had to call upon a neighboring primary school in order to have ample computers for testing their 285 elementary sixth graders. In the end, while online testing sounds wonderful, the reality of testing large numbers of students on computers for the reading test produces a logistical nightmare.

Moreover, because data is necessary only when used for a specific purpose, district and school staffs lose inordinate amounts of time analyzing data relative to accountability and student performance. Additionally, promotion and graduation decisions can now hinge on testing outcomes. Retained students suffer psychologically and socially starting at age 9, and cause logistical issues in terms of safety for younger students. Picture a 16 year old at a middle school with 11 year old sixth graders. Also, research demonstrates that retained students remain the lowest performers in the grade level. Retention does not improve student achievement.

District and school personnel are extremely frustrated that results come back so late. As a result, promotion decisions for some students must be postponed until after school is out, which means that teachers cannot always make final promotion decisions about every student. Once results are available, principals are left to contact parents after issuing a final report card to advise them about their child’s progression. Similarly, limited summer staff spends many summer hours analyzing data, leaving less time for proactive activities such as school improvement planning and preparing the academic program for the upcoming school year.

The cost to instructional time due to substantive testing and test preparation has severely impacted student learning. For instance, in a single year, as many as sixty-two tests may be administered by the district to its students. Throughout this, students will spend at minimum nine weeks in kindergarten and up to twenty-one weeks of the school year in 10th grade testing. Students who must take multiple tests, as well as students who must take a test multiple times for a given subject (i.e. accelerated middle school students that test in their EOC and FCAT math) are losing momentum. Students are affected by testing even if they are not the ones testing. Their classrooms may be changed; their scheduled teachers may be serving as a test administrator. One principal indicated that in order to administer these tests, over forty student instructional days are disrupted in some manner. Concerns relative to costs in student learning time include:

* FCAT testing evaluates a student’s year of growth even though not a full year of instruction has taken place. For example, approximately 70% of the school year has taken place prior to testing for FCAT Writing and about 77% of the school year has taken place prior to FCAT reading, even though the assessments cover 100% of the year’s expected learning. The testing window takes place significantly earlier than the completion of a year’s worth of instruction. Students often shut down after testing and feel the school year is over when FCAT is complete. This creates a lack of motivation, attention, optimum learning environment, and achievement.

* Media centers, reading labs, science rooms and computer labs required for testing remain closed to the entire school, negatively impacting the academic programs for K-12 students.

* Due to the extreme amount of testing and the need to use certified ESE personnel as test administrators, the available continuum of service under IDEA has been severely debilitated. When highly qualified ESE personnel must test rather than work with their challenging population of students, ESE student success rates decrease.

* K-12 classes operate with substitute teachers, leaving students in the hands of substitute teachers. While administrators do their best to place the most effective substitutes in classrooms, one cannot adequately replace a highly qualified teacher.

* International Baccalaureate (IB) seniors will not have class the entire month of May due to overlap in testing.

* Teachers spend a disproportionate amount of instructional time on academic skill development. 21st century skill development, such as creativity and problem solving, or social and cross-cultural interaction, must take a backseat to test preparation and testing, even though educators and business persons know how truly critical those skills are for success in the current global job market.

* School administrators reported they have had to eliminate fieldtrips and off-campus activities two months early because they need students at school for testing.

* Students miss MESH classes and electives during all four sections of testing.

* Dual Enrollment students must miss college classes in order to complete testing.

* Teachers rarely have a full class of students once testing begins, as someone is always out testing. Yet, the teacher must move on with instruction for the remaining students. The logistics of trying to make-up for lost instruction is impossible; therefore it becomes incumbent upon the student to take responsibility for learning concepts taught in his or her absence.

* CTE programs also conduct Industry Certifications during this time. Preparing students is becoming increasingly difficult because teachers must see that students learn their material prior to academic testing season. In some schools, students miss out on almost two months of instructional time in CTE Programs.

* There is little or no computer access on campus for any students from April through the end of the school year. Tying up the computer labs inhibits the enhancement of other disciplines through the use of technology.

Additional Concerns Relative to Testing Costs

* Students who do not hit the benchmark score on the 10th grade FCAT lose out on taking electives because of mandated remediation classes.

* Students absent during testing must receive a makeup day for testing; therefore, they lose another period of instructional time with their teacher.

* Testing without “immediate feedback” results in a decrease of student motivation and focus.

* Some students are charged with taking the next level of math and/or science course, yet are taking a remediation class of the previous year’s course due to failure on the EOC. This can result in a loss of cohesion between instruction and to the student’s learning progression.

* Late testing creates a decrease in preparation time for future year in planning registration and scheduling of students (reporting of scores, summer school, etc.).

* State statutes dictate that teachers complete additional, on-going paperwork and record keeping for teachers serving students who scored Level 1 and 2. This costs teachers in time and energy that should be devoted to actual teaching.

* Districts offer fewer elective classes due to required remedial classes.

* Little money is allocated to the arts or enrichment programs that are vital to motivating and engaging students.

* During the EOC season, mid-April through the end of May, students will be coming in and out of their classrooms at various times. This results in a difficult and inconsistent learning environment.

The testing, preparation, and response to the outcomes of these tests, lead up to large costs to the whole system. Whether these costs be fiscal, in personnel changes and losses, reduced school services, facility/environment losses, decision postponements, or most importantly, losses in actual classroom instructional time, the system incurs too many to not be harmful to the whole.

THE COMPOSITION OF FLORIDA’S CURRENT HIGH STAKES READING TESTS

An examination of the actual composition of the current high stakes tests in Florida also reveals negative trends. The FCAT Reading tests continue to be problematic in both topic choice and chosen questions.

For instance, according to the stated test item specifications by the FDOE, texts should be “interesting and appealing to students at the grades for which the selections are intended.” While it remains rather impossible to find a topic that is universally interesting to all students, a passing glance at some of the sample topics shows a product glaringly far from the stated goal. Such topics include glacial erosion theory, hiking narration, fishing, mammal biology, and even a cell phone user manual. Arguably, many of the above topics most students would not choose to read on their own, which can affect successful comprehension and thus, testing. Likewise, topics need to be “free of bias or cultural insensitivity.” Although many of the example topics appear innocuous at surface level, they do put Florida students at a disadvantage due to a lack of experience and familiarity with the topic, which can be caused by geographic location and socioeconomic status. Even more so, these topics also refer to subjects that students may not have yet been introduced to them in a classroom setting, such as the engineering topics. Rather than test the students as readers, the testing topics start students at a disadvantage based on their interests, experience, and knowledge in other areas.

In the same way, the set-up of the questions and answer options proves to be problematic as well. For example, the current multiple choice question designs tend to give more than a single “correct” answer depending on how a student analyzes the question using low-level or high-level thinking. Additionally, some questions are specifically designed with the intent of trickery. Some questions contain wording patterns that are known to interfere with the test taker’s ability to clearly understand the task (like NOT or EXCEPT), which means these questions lean more in the direction of measuring test taking skills than in testing reading ability relative to the passage presented. The word choice of “not” is arguably intended to misguide the overeager reader who does not fully read the question in a rush to choose the right answer. Moreover, many questions utilize answers, which are only either straight paraphrase from the passage or not within the passage. This type of question debatably does not actually test comprehension of the passage, but instead merely tests the ability of one to match up options with the passage. As one can see, the current reading assessment questions, whether from use of distractors or enticers, are not reaching their goal of testing the students on actual comprehension.

Here are some examples of how are kids tested:

Students who score a level one or two on the FCAT Reading are labeled as having “little success with the content on the FCAT”, yet there is a growing number of students intensive reading are clearly academically successful.

— Current standardized reading assessments do not stress what we really value, which is comprehension.

— The best possible assessment would occur when teachers observe and interact with students as they read authentic texts for genuine purposes.

QUESTION – “Children learn how to read best in a low-risk environment”, then why does there seem to be so much stress in the testing process, for example we now have vomit procedures. (“Celebration of Knowledge”)

QUESTION – Children should be permitted to choose reading materials, activities, and ways of demonstrating their understanding of text, yet many are assigned passages on the FCAT of which they would probably never choose to read on their own, for example:

— Glacial erosion theory

— Hiking in the Red Woods

— Fly fishing in Montana

— The enigma of the Echidna (an Australian, egg-laying mammal)

— Cell phone tower designs

According to the FCAT 2.0, texts should be interesting and appealing to students???

According to the FCAT 2.0 design summary, texts should ensure that passages are free from bias or cultural insensitivity.

— Students in Florida have limited experience with fly fishing or hiking the Red Woods.

The material tested should present subject matter of high interest and pertinent to students’ lives.

— How many of us are familiar with the animal called Echidna?

There are test item distractors on multiple choice answer assessments. There should be no question as to what a correct answer should be, however when test designers have more than one answer that could be correct, but only one answer is predetermined by the test-maker then what would be the correct answer?

Here’s an example:

Which of the following is NOT a factor that makes tracking echidnas with radio transmitters challenging? (Use of NOT is a test-taking skill challenge) (stem)

A. Echidnas spend time in caves. (in passage practically verbatim)

B. Transmitters are difficult to attach. (distractor/enticer: extremely close to correct answer) (in passage practically verbatim)

C. Transmitters are difficult to acquire. (not stated in passage; do we need to comprehend to answer this or just know test taking skills?)

D. Echidnas are built low to the ground. (in passage practically verbatim)

*bolded answer is the correct one (C)

Ultimately, reading comprehension and mastery of standards are not assessed, for the ability of one to interpret the intentions of test-writers are assessed

Here’s another example:

According to the article, what is one echidna characteristic that is shared with other mammals?

F. The production of milk (almost verbatim from passage)

G. the size of the neocortex (higher-order logically correct distractor/enticer)

H. the use of spines for climbing (low-level distractor)

I. the use of the beak for rooting (low-level distractor)

*The correct answer is F

Based on the answer provided by the FLDOE, the correct answer is F. However, students who utilize higher-level thinking and have a higher-level understanding of mammals may pick G. G is actually a correct answer and arguably “more correct,” in a higher-level sense than the true answer, F, according to the passage.

It is rather difficult to gauge mastery of standards and student growth if the test is only trying to trick one into selecting the incorrect answer. If this is the case, then measurement of student mastery and academic growth is not being conducted but rather the ability to recognize when one is being deceived is being measured. Is this the goal of standardized assessments in Florida?

POSSIBLE NEXT STEPS???

1. Do nothing, accept status quo.

2. Develop a more in-depth report with full participation from all eleven counties.

3. Join and accept the Palm Beach County School Board Unification request.

4. Launch a new task force to study alternatives to the current testing; its format and requirements.

5. Develop a plan to educate all stakeholders of public schools as to the negative consequences of the current standardized testing on our public schools.

6. What are the Coalition’s?

-0-

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/18/2012

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company