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Sunday, March 13, 2011


There are some times as a teacher that you are doing what you have to do even though you know it is not best for the students. Last week and next I am giving ISATs (Illinois Standard Achievement Tests). Some of my students are taking IAA (Illinois Alternative Assessment). All of my students are anxious and stressed out. Despite the fact that I give them a test whenever I can in class, and preface it with the words, "We LOVE tests. We can show what we know!" My students really can't show what they know on the ISATs. I was distraught on Thursday when one of my students tried to do an extended response item in the Reading test. He could not do it, because he could not read the question. I was not allowed to read it to him. How is that testing his knowledge?!

Kildeer School District was blessed this month with a visit by Robert Marzano. He had some interesting facts about standardized test scores. The reliability for the state test in a large Midwestern state is .87 (the best reliability is .99). This means that every time you give the same test, there is a 13 percent chance that random errors have influenced the score. Subscale reliabilities are lower; .33 to .57. The reliability of flipping a coin to get heads is about .5, so you can see the problem.

What all the hoopla is about is just numbers. It doesn't mean that the children are not learning if their scores don't go up. Maybe it just means they became homeless on the day of the test, or they had surgery that year, or their parents got divorced. Marzano gave me great hope that a new system of assessment is being born that will show what students know: formative assessment or rubrics.

Still, there is one issue that is never addressed because there is no practical measure. "Imagination is more important than knowledge," is Einstein's famous quote. Some of my learning disabled students are talented and creative in nonverbal activities such as music, theater, and technology. Decades have gone by with no state testing knowledge of computers. It was the great promise of the 1990s that technology would not just change the way we teach, but the way our students learn. In the last five years, multidisciplinary collaborative projects have been replaced by emphasis on test scores. Science and social studies take a back seat to reading and math. Technology is allowed if it is related to the curriculum, which is now based on standards.

Resentment against teachers has flamed into political retribution. When will we return the school system to the instructional experts and tell the politicians what should be taught and how? Ask any professor at any university and they will support the view that standardized testing limits what can be done in the classroom, and does not allow for creative possibilities. The students of today need skills we haven't even thought of yet, and their best chance of success is to teach creativity and problem-solving.