Many people—not just students—cringe when they hear the word test because it triggers fear in some and anger in others.
Educators know that tests are an important part of teaching. I tried hard to make assessments more fun and meaningful for my students. Though I preferred performance-based assessments for units, I still relied on frequent short tests/quizzes to guide my teaching.
Last summer, I put myself in my students’ seat when I was given an opportunity to take three state tests. Teachers rarely get to see or take state tests, so when given a chance to do so and offer my opinion, I was all in.
Through a project with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, I took the fifth-grade math versions of the Smarter Balanced assessment (used by several states), the OAKS from Oregon, and the Nevada state test. Then we compared the Smarter Balanced assessment with the OAKs and the Nevada test.
Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) to gauge rigor, it became evident rather quickly that one test met the criteria more than the other two. The Smarter Balanced test, when judged by DOK, not only used deeper, more thought-provoking questions, it also reflected sound assessment practices appropriate for the grade level taking the test. Though the other two state tests attempted to be less traditional, they just ended up being too wordy or confusing.
The results of the research showed that I am not alone in my preference for the Smarter Balanced assessment. Other study participants agreed that it used an appropriate amount of rigor for grade five. They also noticed shortcomings in the other two tests. While the results of the research study did not surprise me, I have to admit I am excited by the idea that the Smarter Balanced test reflects what teachers actually teach and what students are expected to know in fifth grade.
The study gives me hope, whether or not states are using the Smarter Balanced test. The study affirms that we can create and refine our assessments to make them meaningful, reflecting what students should be able to know and do.
States everywhere would benefit by including more teachers in the process of designing and reviewing their tests. In Pennsylvania, there are over 100,000 professional teachers who could give feedback on the test given, if only they were invited to participate in the process of improving the test.
Informative and useful state tests are possible. Moving away from tests that feel punitive rather than informative is a huge step. Having the tests reflect truly what the students will need to do with the knowledge they are gaining is an even bigger step. And having the tests help educators improve their teaching would be one giant leap for mankind.
It is good to know that our trajectory is on point, but we still have some ways to travel. Just don’t leave teachers out of the journey.