Testing Abuse

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Why 'Speed' Kills An Education

The current trend in education is to get feedback about student progress instantly. Why? There’s a race going on, don’t you know? We have to be smarter, faster, and better than all other countries. Or so the thought goes. Handheld devices called iRespond created by EduTrax are designed to do just this with regards to testing in the classroom. They are given to each student so that when they press a button, they electronically give an answer to a question that is sent to a computer. These answers are then tabulated and compiled, which gives the teacher visual feedback in terms of graphs or charts that are supposed to ‘reduce’ the amount of time correcting student work or tests in the class. Supposedly, more teaching can then be done, but many teachers today would attest that this is just another layer of assessment that will not clarify what students know and are able to do. Is this really going to help with achievement, or is it another gimmick created to take advantage of schools who need to increase their scores on high stakes tests to comply with the No Child Left Behind Law?

If we backwards map the relationship of high stakes tests being given throughout the country along with what is being done in the classroom, the results would show an increase in dropouts, a stagnant NAEP trend regarding achievement gaps, and the lessening of teaching such important subjects such as social studies and science. High stakes tests do not increase learning. Using hand held electronic devices to give instantaneous results on practice tests and benchmarks that mimic these end of year exams would only increase the rate at which students don’t learn. Just because quiz responses are faster, doesn't make them better. Much of our community may be fooled into thinking they are---even teachers.

For example, I have a friend at my school who is a newer teacher and just loves using her scanner to score her company-made formative tests. It puts the percentages straight into her electronic grade book on a daily basis. She adores it because then she doesn't have to take home any work to grade; the work is done for her. So, I told her a story about me.

Years ago, I was a scantron junkie, and I'm here admitting it . We had just gotten it at our school and were taught how to use it. My tests would be bubbled in and corrected instantly, and then I could slide one of those 'data collecting' sheets through to tell me which numbers on the test the kids missed the most. I was set. The scores would be recorded quickly, and my grades were calculated more rapidly. Then parent teacher conferences came.

During a typical meeting, as I went through a student’s grades, all I found myself doing was giving average percents in each subject. When parents asked for more detail, I struggled greatly to find anymore. The anecdotal information that I needed to corroborate my numbers was missing because I had relied almost purely on the input of numbers into my computer. If a parent asked me, "What does he need work on? How can I help him?", what I found myself doing was looking for the lowest score and going, "Well, uh, he needs to work on math."

The truth was I didn't really know my kids. I had lost emotional and scholastic contact with them. I had relied on these numbers so much to tell me the truth, that in actuality they had blinded me from what was really happening. I had to change. I stopped using the scantron and decided that I would write letters to my students about their progress; they would then in turn write back to me. There was weekly assessment dialogues about how they did, what they thought about it, what they thought they could do to improve, and what they needed from me. Since I have initiated this method, my students have done very well on a longitudinal scale each year. The scantron machine was never used again by me. My teaching friend looked at me after this story and said, "You know what? You could be right about me needing to know my students better."

This teacher still continues to use her method, but is trying to change slowly as she learns what is really important about teaching. Like the scantron machine, this ‘assess faster to teach better’ ideology will create the opposite effect it was intended for. I find it concerning that technology like this is taking over what is really important in school, and that is the teacher-student relationship. To this day I am happy bringing home papers, which allows me to appreciate my students. That's the way it should be.