More are questioning the value of one-size-fits-all testing

20 Feb

Joy Resmovits has an excellent post at Huffington Post. In Standardized Tests’ Measures of Student Performance Vary Widely: Study Resmovits reports:

The United States has 50 distinct states, which means there are 50 distinct definitions of “proficient” on standardized tests for students.

For example, an Arkansas fourth-grader could be told he is proficient in reading based on his performance on a state exam. But if he moved across the border to Missouri, he might find that’s no longer true, according to a new report.

“This is a really fundamental, interesting question about accountability reform in education,” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the government organization that produced the report, told reporters on a Tuesday conference call.

The report, written by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, found that the definition of proficiency on standardized tests varies widely among states, making it difficult to assess and compare student performance. The report looked at states’ standards on exams and found that some states set much higher bars for students proficiency in particular subjects.

The term “proficiency” is key because the federal No Child Left Behind law mandates that 100 percent of students must be “proficient” under state standards by 2014 — a goal that has been universally described as impossible to reach.

The report, released Wednesday, relies on standards used by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the only national-level standardized test, considered the gold standard for measuring actual student achievement. Researchers scaled state standards to match NAEP’s and then analyzed differences among state scores in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

They found many states deemed students “proficient” by their own standards, but those same students would have been ranked as only “basic” — defined as “partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade” — under NAEP.

“The implication is that students of similar academic skills but residing in different states are being evaluated against different standards for proficiency in reading and mathematics,” the report concludes….

Here is the report citation:

Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Variation and Change in State Standards for Reading and Mathematics, 2005-2009

August 10, 2011

Author: Victor Bandeira de Mello

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. (1959K PDF)

W.M. Chambers cautioned about testing in a 1964 Journal of General Education article, Testing And Its Relationship To Educational Objectives. He questioned whether testing supported the objectives of education rather than directing the objectives.

Here is the complete citation:

Penn State University PressTesting And Its Relationship To Educational Objectives

W. M. Chambers

The Journal of General Education
Vol. 16, No. 3 (October 1964), pp. 246-249
(article consists of 4 pages)

Published by:

Stable URL:

The goal of education is of course, the educate students. Purdue University has a concise synopsis of Bloom’s Taxonomy which one attempt at describing education objectives:

Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is the most renowned description of the levels of cognitive performance. The levels of the Taxonomy and examples of activities at each level are given in Table 3.3. The levels of this taxonomy are considered to be hierarchical. That is, learners must master lower level objectives first before they can build on them to reach higher level objectives.

 Table 3.3

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

Cognitive Domain

1. Knowledge (Remembering previously learned material) 

Educational Psychology: Give the definition of punishment.

Mathematics: State the formula for the area of a circle.

English / Language Arts: Recite a poem.2. Comprehension (Grasping the meaning of material) 

Educational Psychology: Paraphrase in your own words the definition of punishment; answer questions about the meaning of punishment.

Mathematics: Given the mathematical formula for the area of a circle, paraphrase it using your own words.

English / Language Arts: Explain what a poem means.  3. Application (Using information in concrete situations)

Educational Psychology: Given an anecdote describing a teaching situation, identify examples of punishment.

Mathematics: Compute the area of actual circles.

English / Language Arts: Identify examples of metaphors in a poem.4. Analysis (Breaking down material into parts)

Educational Psychology: Given an anecdote describing a teaching situation, identify the psychological strategies intentionally or accidentally employed.

Mathematics: Given a math word problem, determine the strategies that would be necessary to solve it.

English / Language Arts: Given a poem, identify the specific poetic strategies employed in it.5. Synthesis (Putting parts together into a whole) 

Educational Psychology: Apply the strategies learned in educational psychology in an organized manner to solve an educational problem.

Mathematics: Apply and integrate several different strategies to solve a mathematical problem.

English / Language Arts: Write an essay or a poem. 6. Evaluation (Judging the value of a product for a given purpose, using definite criteria)

Educational Psychology: Observe another teacher (or yourself) and determine the quality of the teaching performance in terms of the teacher’s appropriate application of principles of educational psychology.

Mathematics: When you have finished solving a problem (or when a peer has done so) determine the degree to which that problem was solved as efficiently as possible.

English / Language Arts: Analyze your own or a peer’s essay in terms of the principles of composition discussed during the semester.Knowledge (recalling information) represents the lowest level in Bloom’s taxonomy. It is “low” only in the sense that it comes first – it provides the basis for all “higher” cognitive activity. Only after a learner is able to recall information is it possible to move on to comprehension(giving meaning to information). The third level is application, which refers to using knowledge or principles in new or real-life situations. The learner at this level solves practical problems by applying information comprehended at the previous level. The fourth level is analysis – breaking down complex information into simpler parts. The simpler parts, of course, were learned at earlier levels of the taxonomy. The fifth level, synthesis, consists of creating something that did not exist before by integrating information that had been learned at lower levels of the hierarchy. Evaluation is the highest level of Bloom’s hierarchy. It consists of making judgments based on previous levels of learning to compare a product of some kind against a designated standard.

Teachers often use the term application inaccurately. They assume anytime students use the information in any way whatsoever that this represents the application level of Bloom’s taxonomy. This is not correct.

A child who “uses” his memorization of the multiplication tables to write down “15” next to “5 times 3 equals” is working at the knowledge level, not the application level.

A child who studies Spanish and then converses with a native Mexican is almost certainly at the synthesis level, not at the application level. If the child made a deliberate attempt to get his past tense right, this would be an example of application. However, in conversing he would almost certainly be creating something new that did not exist before by integrating information that had been learned at lower levels of the hierarchy.

 Bloom’s use of the term application differs from our normal conversational use of the term. When working at any of the four highest levels of the taxonomy, we “apply” what we have learned. At the application level, we “just apply.” At the higher levels, we “apply and do something else.”The main value of the Taxonomy is twofold: (1) it can stimulate teachers to help students acquire skills at all of these various levels, laying the proper foundation for higher levels by first assuring mastery of lower-level objectives; and (2) it provides a basis for developing measurement strategies to assess student performance at all these levels of learning.

See, Bloom’s Taxonomy More and more people are asking if testing really advances the goals of education or directs testing’s objectives, which may or may not be the same as the goals of education.

Arthur Goldstein writes in the New York Times article, Students Learn Differently. So Why Test Them All the Same?

We teachers have been hearing for years about “differentiated instruction.” It makes sense to treat individuals differently, and to adapt communication toward what works for them. Some kids you can joke with, and some you cannot. Some need more explanation, while others need little or none. If you consider students as individuals (and especially if you have a reasonable class size), you can better meet their needs.

Considering that, it’s remarkable that the impending Core Curriculum fails to differentiate between native-born American students and English language learners. The fact is, it takes time to learn a language, and while my kids are doing that, they may indeed miss reading Ethan Frome.

Is that really the end of the world?

Before Common Core, our standard was the ever-evolving New York State English Regents exam. Anyone who doesn’t pass the test doesn’t graduate, period. So when my supervisor asks me to train kids to pass it, I do.

The last time I taught it, the Regents exam entailed various multiple choice questions and four essays. I trained kids to write tightly structured, highly formulaic four-paragraph essays (in a style I would never use).

Nonetheless, many of them passed. Kids told one another, “You should take that class. It’s awful, but you’ll pass the exam.”

Regrettably, though the kids worked very hard, writing almost until their hands fell off, the only skill they acquired was passing the English Regents.

Because the exam placed more emphasis on communication than structure, I did not stress structure. I had classes of up to 34, and had to read and comment on everything every kid wrote, so time was limited.

Still, I knew that when my kids went to college, they would have to take writing tests — tests which would almost inevitably label them as E.S.L. students, and place them in remedial classes.

I’ve taught those very classes at Nassau Community College. Students pay for six credit hours and receive zero credits. It seems like a very costly way to learn (particularly since I would happily offer high school kids identical preparation for free). But when your student came from Korea five days ago and needs to graduate in less than a year, you make that kid pass the test.

Still, passing does not constitute mastery. It takes years to learn a language, and that time frame varies wildly by individual.

A kid who’s happy here will embrace the language and master it rapidly, while one who has been dragged kicking and screaming may fold his arms and refuse to learn a thing.

Some kids have been trained all their lives to be quiet in the classroom, and will not speak above a whisper — not the best trait in a language learner.

I’m prepared to deal with all these kids, and ready and willing to do whatever necessary to help them. But if I’m compelled to teach them Shakespeare before they’re ready for SpongeBob, I’m not meeting their needs.

There’s no doubt my students will be more college-ready with a strong background in English structure and usage, something relatively automatic for native speakers. In fact, the language skills my kids have in their first languages will almost inevitably transfer into English.

But depriving them of the time and instruction they need is not, by any means, putting “Children First.”

Testing is just another battle in the one-size-fits-all approach to education.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

One Response to “More are questioning the value of one-size-fits-all testing”


  1. The importance of the National Assessment of Educational Progress « drwilda - September 12, 2012

    […] See, Bloom’s Taxonomy More and more people are asking if testing really advances the goals of education or directs testing’s objectives, which may or may not be the same as the goals of education. […]

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