Test more, not less

Testing is under attack, but the solution is more testing, not less, argue Russ Whitehurst and Katharine Lindquist on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

New Common Core tests demand more of students, pushing down proficiency rates even in suburban schools, they write. That’s accelerated the push to test only in a few grade levels.

Linda Darling-Hammond, who advised one the consortia developing the new tests, recommends three tests — once in elementary, middle and high school — while still breaking out scores for “vulnerable” groups.

Her proposal would end value-added evaluation of teachers and schools, they write.

. . .  value-added calculations at the teacher level depend on the difference between the test scores of a teacher’s students at the end of the school year and the test scores of those same students at the end of the previous school year.  The annual gain in test scores of the teacher’s students, with some additional statistical information, is the teacher’s value-added.  

. . . Value-added can’t be calculated for many teachers as it is, but in the tested grades and subjects in which it can be estimated, it provides an important point of validation for other more widely deployed measures such as classroom observations. It is also the basis for calculating the school’s value-added, e.g., the test score gains between 3rd and 5th grade for all the students attending a particular elementary school relative to the gains in other elementary schools.

The fewer kids who are tested the more unreliable the scores: Testing at only one grade level “makes results nearly meaningless,” especially for the “vulnerable” subgroups, Whitehurst and Lindquist conclude.

Testing more is the answer, they write.

Consider what would happen to the pervasive test-prep sessions that consume weeks of class time in many schools leading up to the end-of-the-year test if students, instead, spent an hour or so monthly being tested on content drawn from their lessons in the previous few weeks.   Under this scenario the high stakes tests blend into the tests and quizzes that good teachers have always given their students regularly, and that research shows without a doubt increase student learning.

Monthly tests (on computers, I assume) would give teachers feedback in time to adapt their teaching.

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