That magical feeling is in the air again as we travel through March and toward April. What’s that, you say? Is it March Madness, a great time to be a basketball fan? Is it spring training, foreshadowing another fabulous season of baseball? Why no, it’s testing season in Minnesota, which means it’s time for my 4th annual rant about standardized testing.
Since last we walked this path in this space, much has changed in educational testing, though it seems like we’re standing still. The federal government at long last got rid of the hated No Child Left Behind law. This brainchild of former president GW Bush stated that EVERY child will meet a basic level of reading and math. Everyone in education knew that this was bound to fail. There are so many students with special needs of varying levels that it was impossible to reach 100%.
NCLB was replaced this year with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The main thrust of this legislation was giving states more power in determining the education schools taught. Previously the federal government linked all sorts of measures with funding to schools. However, upon closer look, the ESSA still maintains many of the same requirements, just couching them in terms to make it look like the feds are giving up control.
Many areas of the new law say that states can determine what will be used to fulfill requirements. However, most of us realize that departments of education will simply maintain the course they’ve set since they’ve done all the legwork to get here. It’s not likely that many states will overhaul the overbearing system of testing they put in place as a result of NCLB. Would you do more work if what you had was acceptable?
So we’re still stuck with annual testing in grades 3-8 in reading and math as well as one more shot in high school. There will still be science tests three different times, even though many schools scaled way back on their science curriculum in elementary school because of NCLB. There is, however, one possible bright spot that I noticed as I combed through the ESSA.
This new law allows states to allow schools to use adaptive testing instead of standardized tests. What’s the difference? On a standardized test, every student has all the same questions. (On a side note, Minnesota has been notorious about adding “extra” stories on the reading MCAs, trying to figure out good ones to use in the future. This angers me since it forces kids to take even longer on a test they hate. These extra stories don’t count in their score, but they don’t know which are the extras. My calls to the Minnesota Department of Education have fallen on deaf ears. “What’s the big deal?” seems to be their mantra.)
An adaptive test is a much better measure of a student’s progress. We’ve gone through a battery of different options at NRHEG. We started with the NWEA test, using it 2-3 times a year to see how kids were progressing. We moved to the FAST test last year, mainly because of pricing, but it has proved to be ineffective. We are now looking at STAR testing, which looks to be a good product, providing us plenty of data that we need, not only for our regular base of students, but also for special education testing.
Adaptive tests change based on the individual student. If that student gets a question of two wrong, the test adjusts, trying to find the level the child can attain. If the student continues to answer correctly, the test becomes more difficult, again trying to find the ceiling on the student’s ability. It’s a great measuring stick and really provides a much better glimpse into each student’s ability.
The funny thing to me is that, over the years, when I look at adaptive test scores of my students, I see great progress and meeting levels of expectations. Those same kids take the MCA tests and don’t fare nearly as well. Wait, what? The adaptive tests are taken three times a year (and still don’t take as long as an average MCA test), so even if a student is having a bad day and bombs out once, you will likely see that aberration and note how, outside of that instance, there is increased ability or not, depending on the child.
The big question is, will Minnesota realize the value of these adaptive tests and give the go-ahead to use them? I’m guessing no, at least not right away. Why? It’s money. I’m not sure for how long MDE has a contract with Pearson, the big standardized testing company, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we won’t see a sniff of change until that’s up. I’d also guess that MDE will be hesitant to give up that ghost since the legislature would likely cut their budget even more.
That’s one thing good our state did last year was cut MDE’s testing budget. That helped eliminate some extra tests that only kept our kids filling in bubbles more than usual. Hopefully our state can also regain its progressive attitude toward education and give local districts more choice in how to test our students. If wishes were fishes…
Word of the Week: This week’s word is hebetate, which means to grow dull or stupid, as in, “The student felt he hebetated more and more with each year of MCA testing.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!