Standardized testing and engaging pedagogy are not mutually exclusive.
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Across the United States and beyond, the anti-testing movement seems to be reaching its crescendo. Yet the case against testing is remarkably weak, resting on a foundation of four fundamental misunderstandings of the role that assessments play in our schools.
Myth #1: Teachers’ instincts should guide instruction
Perhaps the most common anti-testing refrain is that we should get out of the way and just “let teachers teach.” The idea is that teachers know best and that standardized testing—or any kind of testing, really, other than the teacher-built kind—is a distracting nuisance that saps valuable instructional time, deflects instructors from what’s most essential, and yields very little useful information about student learning.
What you don’t often hear is how research has consistently demonstrated that, absent independent checks, many teachers hold low-income and minority students to different standards than their affluent, white peers. This bias is rarely intentional, but it has been found time and time again.
Standardized tests not only help us unearth these biases but also put the spotlight on achievement gaps that need to be closed, students who need extra help, schools that are struggling, and on. And by doing so, they drive critical conversations about the curriculum, pedagogy, and state and district
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While the lion’s share of the Common Core ELA implementation debate has focused on the precise proportion of time teachers should spend teaching fiction v. nonfiction in reading classes (see here and here), there is a far more critical discussion that has largely flown under the radar: the conversation about what the CCSS text-complexity guidance means for curriculum, instruction, and standards implementation.
Leveled literacy programs—like Lucy Calkins’s famed Reading and Writing Workshop—focus on assessing students’ reading levels and giving them “just right” books (those whose difficulty matches their independent or instructional reading level). Classrooms using leveled literacy programs typically have libraries with book bins labeled with a letter that corresponds with a reading level, and students choose from the “appropriate” bin for independent reading or instruction.
Such programs are wildly popular—as evidence by the growing number of classrooms with leveled libraries and the growing number of teachers who use “guided reading” programs or who follow the “workshop” model.
Unfortunately for students, the popularity of these programs is not driven by convincing research proving their effectiveness. In fact, as noted literacy expert Tim Shanahan discussed in a series of must-read posts on his blog nearly two years ago,
I have sought studies that would support the original
While nobody should be satisfied with America's overall performance in science education, it's possible to make it even worse.
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(Updated February 7, 2013 for the Education Gadfly Weekly)
The public-comment period ended last week on draft 2.0 of the forthcoming “Next Generation Science Standards,” under development by Achieve, umpteen other organizations, and some two dozen states and promised for release in final form next month. Once released, states will be invited to consider adopting them, much like the Common Core for English and math.
Now ‘til March is not much time to repair this important, ambitious, but still seriously troubled document. The drafters might be wise to take more.
We at the Fordham Institute have a long history of reviewing state science standards, and last week, we submitted our review, feedback, and comments on NGSS 2.0. A team of nine eminent scientists, mathematicians, and educators, prepared our analysis. You can find the full review here, including team members’ bios on page 8. (We previously reviewed Draft 1.0, and Dr. Paul R. Gross, the distinguished biologist who heads the team, also reviewed the National Research Council “framework” on which NGSS is based.)
If states are going to make rational decisions to replace their own science standards
Tests in use from Kindergarten through eleventh grade need to have cut scores that denote true readiness for the next grade and that culminate to "college and career readiness."
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As the U.S. education world eagerly awaits more information about the new assessments that two consortia of states are developing to accompany the Common Core standards, dozens of perplexing and important questions have arisen: Once the federal grants run out, how will these activities be financed? What will it cost states and districts to participate? Who will govern and manage these massive testing programs? What about the technology infrastructure? The list goes on.
The assessment questions that weigh most heavily on my mind these days, however, involve “cut scores.” For if the Common Core is truly intended to yield high school graduates who are college and career ready, its assessments must be calibrated to passing scores that colleges and employers will accept as the levels of skill and knowledge that their entrants truly need to possess. Adequately equipping young people cannot wait ‘til twelfth grade, nor can the assessment sequence. The tests in use from Kindergarten through eleventh grade need to have passing scores that denote true readiness for the next grade and that cumulate to “college and career readiness.”
That’s a daunting challenge
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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