Test reform would create school reform

Jose – Here in Virginia we have had standards of learning for a long time. Our standards are revised every seven years by content area. English one year, then math, etc. What we hadn’t done, since the beginning of our standards, is revise our tests. Of course we add new questions and take some out each year but, we haven’t looked to see if our tests are even assessing what we want kids or teachers to do. This has been the main point of my last couple posts. It seems like school reformers always want to make it so that teachers fit into a certain mold of success. There is no discussion about if this mold is even valuable.

The idea of school reform has always been a political game but, finally, someone here in Virginia is picking up the testing football.  Recently, candidate for Governor, Terry McAuliffe has suggested that we revise the tests not the schools. In a speech he suggested that tests should be shorter, testing less content at one time, and used for formative assessment and to show gain.


“The current, once-a-year, high-stakes, multiple-choice testing isn’t working for students, parents or teachers,” he told a crowd of more than 300 people at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, to rousing applause.

Under the current system, a fifth-grade teacher who raises a child from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level is considered a failure, he said. Teachers who want to break up the test into smaller portions, or test at different levels based on student achievement should be encouraged, he said.

McAuliffe also said he would establish a “blue-ribbon commission” to study the content of the tests. Students and teachers have said that the facts on the test don’t always align with the concepts that are important to know.

“It’s good if a child knows the date we landed on the moon,” McAuliffe said. “But it’s much better if the child knows about the Space Race, NASA and the Apollo Program.”

The candidate also said the state should move to “progress-based data, instead of simplistic, end-of-the-year, one-time data” when measuring student and teacher success.

This would be a major change for Virginia’s SOL test that totally stresses out students and teachers every year. Maybe he is on the right track. If we changed the test structure and some of the content it would totally make the way we do school change too. For example, teachers would not need to focus solely on “bubble students”, the ones that might pass the test with extra help, and abandon those that will just not meet the benchmark. This type of reform, in which gain matters, would go a long way towards building a more equitable school system that students deserve.


Image: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0317/Education-reform-Can-poor-test-scores-get-a-teacher-fired

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