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MLMATHNET  October 2001

MLMATHNET October 2001

Subject:

did standardized tests test what we though?

From:

Jim Abrams <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Middle Level Mathematics Network <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 2 Oct 2001 17:41:12 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (138 lines)

This is a bit of a long article, but for some of you I think it will get to
be very interesting about the sixth paragraph.

Jim Abrams

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Jerry Becker <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 14:42:42 -0700
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Standardized Ach't Tests: Misnamed and Misleading

******************************
 From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Wednesday, September 19, 2001, Volume 21, Number 3, p. 46. See
http://www.edweek.org/ew/newstory.cfm?slug=03popham.h21&keywords=standardize
d%20achievement%20tests
******************************
Standardized Achievement Tests: Misnamed and Misleading

By W. James Popham

During the past decade, the educators who operate America's public
schools have been increasingly preoccupied with students' scores on
standardized achievement tests. That's because schools whose students
score high on such tests are thought to be effective, while schools
whose students score low are thought to be ineffective. Both thoughts
about school effectiveness, however, are often mistaken. The wrong
tests are being used.

Concerns about students' test scores will escalate dramatically, of
course, if Congress requires states to give standardized achievement
tests each year to all students in grades 3-8. We should take a
harder look at these tests and their uses.

To accurately evaluate a school staff's instructional success, it is
almost self-evident that we should determine how much students have
learned in that school. Most Americans believe this is what's being
measured by standardized achievement tests such as the Iowa Tests of
Basic Skills or the Stanford Achievement Tests. That belief, however,
is also mistaken.

Many of the misperceptions that Americans have about traditional
standardized achievement tests stem from the misleading label pinned
on those tests. Achievement conveys the idea that these tests, as
Webster's Dictionary puts it, measure "knowledge or proficiency in
something that can be learned or taught." In other words, an
achievement test would seem to be measuring what students have
learned in school.

But this is not the measurement function of traditional standardized
achievement tests. Ever since such tests arrived on the scene in the
early 1920s, their overriding function has been to permit comparisons
among test-takers. Indeed, today's standardized achievement tests are
patterned directly after the Army Alpha, a group-administered
intelligence test used in World War I to identify potential officers.

To provide accurate comparisons among test-takers, the Army Alpha and
its descendants must make sure that examinees' scores are widely
spread out. If there's plenty of score-spread, then a test can
determine (in relationship to a norm group of previous test-takers)
that Chris, for example, scored at the 87th percentile, and Lee
scored at the 83rd percentile. Score-spread is imperative if these
tests are going to do their job, namely, identifying an examinee's
relative performance.

But to make certain that standardized achievement tests provide
accurate comparisons, the developers of these tests include many
items that have nothing to do with what's supposed to be taught in
school. Remember, that's not the measurement mission of these tests.

So, if you were to review the actual items in a typical standardized
achievement test, you'd find many items whose correct answer depends
heavily on the socioeconomic status of a child's family. There are
also many items that measure the verbal, quantitative, or spatial
aptitudes that children inherit at birth. Such items are better
suited to intelligence tests. Clearly, items dependent either on the
affluence of a student's family or on a child's genetic inheritance
are not suitable for evaluating
schools.

In short, "achievement" tests really aren't. And because many of
their items measure what students bring to school, not what they
learn there, traditional standardized achievement tests should have
no role in evaluating our schools.

Is it possible to build standardized tests that accurately measure
what's been taught in school? Absolutely. But those tests must be
built with that specific role in mind. We need to evaluate a school
based on how much students have learned in that school. But we'll
never do so if, because of misunderstandings about the role of
traditional standardized achievement tests, we continue to use the
wrong tests when judging our schools.
-------------------------------
W. James Popham, a University of California, Los Angeles, emeritus
professor, is the author of more than 20 books, many of which deal
with educational testing.
**********************************************
On the Web:

Read "Principals in Peril: Judging Quality With the Wrong
Yardsticks," 2000
[http://www.apapdc.edu.au/archive/ASPA/conference2000/papers/art_3_6.htm]
and "New Assessment Methods for School Counselors,"
[http://ericae.net/db/edo/ED388888.htm] 1995, two papers by W. James
Popham on classroom assessment.

FairTest [http://www.fairtest.org/], an advocacy organization that is
critical of standardized test posts "How Standardized Testing Damages
Education," [http://www.fairtest.org/facts/howharm.htm] and "What's
Wrong With Standardized Tests?"
[http://www.fairtest.org/facts/whatwron.htm]

"Testing: Setting the Record Straight," a 2000 policy brief from
Achieve, aims to debunk "many of the test-bashing myths."
[http://www.achieve.org/achieve/achievestart.nsf/a36f0172b9ca029685256626006
0236f/8B6FA1C2276FEFF685256A4800584CDC/$file/Achieve+Testing+Brief+%234027.p
df]
(Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

"The Role of Classroom Assessment in Teaching and Learning," February
2000, by Lorrie A. Shepard
[http://www.cse.ucla.edu/CRESST/Reports/TECH517.pdf], aims to provide
a framework for understanding student assessment in which assessment
would play a more intregral role in teaching and learning. Posted by
the National Center for Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing
[[http://www.cse.ucla.edu/]. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)
****************************************************
--
Jerry P. Becker
Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL  62901-4610
Phone:  (618) 453-4241  [O]
             (618) 457-8903  [H]
Fax:      (618) 453-4244
E-mail:   [log in to unmask]

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