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Topic: Re: another critique of standardized testing
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Posts: 308
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: another critique of standardized testing
Posted: Aug 16, 2000 7:32 AM
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original article at

I wholehearted agree with the conclusion that a single standardized test
can't be used to evaluate the quality of teaching. I strongly disagree
with the implicit conclusion that standardized tests should not be used as
indicators of where to look for causal explanations.

Popham fails to address using ensemble average trends over several years as
indicators of teaching quality.
If at a particular school the average ERB mathematics score dropped by one
standard deviation per year relative to an adjacent school, it certainly
doesn't PROVE anything about the quality of teaching. It might be the case
that the apparent poor performing school was in fact addressing a very
current and very useful branch of mathematics not even remotely considered
for inclusion on a mere standardized test. It might be the case that the
high scoring school cheated or taught a very narrow curriculum directed
specifically at the test. Hopefully a number of people would be strongly
motivated to investigate what was going on in some detail.

Popham seem to believe that the inclusion of items on standardized tests
that are not part of standard texts is inappropriate. Popham cites the
Freeman, D. J., Kuhs, T. M., Porter, A. C., Floden, R. E., Schmidt, W. H.,
Schwille, J. R. (1983). Do textbooks and tests define a natural curriculum
in elementary school mathematics? Elementary School Journal, 83(5),
"The proportion of
topics presented on a standardized test that received more than cursory
treatment in each textbook was never higher than 50 percent" (p. 509).
That is entirely consistent with my educational philosophy: Don't teach to
the test, teach beyond it. Success at that task brings a high likelihood
of 90th percentile scores on the tests. But so what? It is far more
important to have acquired some useful skills. Real life is enormously
more complicated than a standardized test. Its OK to have high test
scores, but substantial skills far beyond their narrow content is
desirable. The standardized test knowledge areas are like (but aren't)
subsets of the skills people use in modern society.

The author fails to address using control populations under the heading
"Confounded Causation ". I used "find" on the original text and the
isolated word/phrase "control" and "comparison population" aren't in the
article. California makes a crude adjustment to the STAR test by taking
into to account a SES index and reporting raw rank as well as adjusted rank
for individual schools. If at a particular school, all of the students of
a particular teacher scored 30 percentile points lower than another teacher
with a nominally similar group of students, wouldn't you be a bit
suspicious? Wouldn't you want to find out if fumes from a lead smelter
were preferentially precipitating in the east room? Or should you use
Popham's conclusion that standardized test scores should not be used for
comparison purposes and ignore the data?
If in a particular district, a particular school scored two standard
deviations below eight other schools with similar SES compositions, isn't
further investigation warranted? If test score averages are contour
plotted and the outlines of particular states are recognizable, should that
information be ignored? Or should it be considered in conjunction with
other data to formulate a plan of action?

In the same section, Confounded Causation the following three statements
are made:
"Few parents spend much time teaching their children about the intricacies
of algebra or how to prove a theorem. "
"The most troubling items on standardized achievement tests assess what
students have learned outside of school."
"One of these factors was directly linked to educational quality. But two
factors weren't."
It seems to me that if a parent has spent substantial time with their child
on homework, it is likely that the child will have received a better
education. Part of the success of PS 169 in NYC is that they have an
explicit program to involve parents in the education of their own children.
I believe that any school that fails to even attempt such involvement
SHOULD be judged harshly for that failure whether it shows up in test
results or not. Popham has subtly substituted "school based educational
quality" for "overall educational quality" and ignored the question of
whether the should be links between them.

Finally, I do agree with Popham's overall conclusions:
"I suggest a three-pronged attack on the problem. First, I think that you
need to learn more about the viscera of standardized achievement tests.
Second, I think that you need to carry out an effective educational
campaign so that your educational colleagues, parents of children in
school, and educational policymakers understand what the evaluative
shortcomings of standardized achievement tests really are. Finally, I think
that you need to arrange a more appropriate form of assessment-based
evidence. " But I don't think they go quite far enough. The POSSIBILITY
that the real problem is simply an inferior education is discounted. I
would also add that the same groups should be educated about the analysis
of trends and the power of controlling for other variables rather than just
looking at raw scores.

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