Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do state assessment results help our children? NO.

Even though we opted our oldest out of the third grade state assessments last year, an error occurred and her blank math test answer form was scanned and sent on to NYSED.  As a result, we received a Parent Report from NYSED via our school.  I am glad this occurred because it helped me to see the actual report for the first time. We informed the school and my child's score will not count towards the school's rating. Either way. the actual score, even if my child took the test,  would be meaningless to me, a snapshot in time does not reflect the progress of a student.

We did not receive a report for my daughter's third grade ELA test, since the school pulled her answer sheets and marked the "999" refusal code.  My daughter is currently in fourth grade, does not qualify for academic intervention and has had no academic consequences for boycotting the state assessments. As a result of the refusal code, her school or teacher are not hurt as well.

This report has added more proof that the high-stakes state assessments have absolutely no validity and do not help parents or teachers improve the education of our children.

Lack of Information for parents.
The information provided by this report does not give a parent any specific way to help our children.  Target ranges? Performance level?  What we need is to see the actual test questions and our child's answers.  We get this information when our children's classwork and homework papers are returned by their teachers.  We can look over the results and see what our child's specific strengths and weaknesses are.  The state assessment was graded and bubbled in early May, yet parents do not receive the report until early September? 

When students complete an assessment, especially a project, writing assignment or teacher created test, they want immediate feedback on how they did.  As a teacher, I try to grade and return these assignments as quickly as possible with comments to help my students.  If a paper is not returned in a timely manner, then it loses its relevance to the student.  If the paper only had a grade on it, without comments, then how does the assessment help the child?

Student Apathy
There lies a major problem with the state assessment system.  The child receives the results months later, with only a score.  No feedback.  What did the student do well on?  What questions did she struggle with?  This is why by fifth grade many students become apathetic towards the state assessments.  Fifth graders have had two rounds of state assessment experience and see that the test has no relevance to their education.   Administrators and state officials have always asked why middle school state assessment scores dip compared to elementary scores, and then the scores rise again in high school.  Simple explanation: Middle school students realize the state assessments are meaningless, but in high school the Regents Exams count towards graduation.

Does not improve instruction
Surprisingly teachers are not provided with any quality information as well.  Last year at a grade level meeting we discussed the results of the state ELA assessment.  The type of question, basically the skill being measured, was outlined.  We found out the percentage of our students who were in the various proficiency levels and how those numbers compared to all schools in New York, all local schools, and schools that have a similar socio-economic status.  We do not get to see the questions or answers.  When teachers assess their own students in class we learn from the student responses. Whether the answer comes from a test, homework, classwork or activity we can see how the child approached the question and the answer to determine what our students need to do to improve.  This is how educators improve instruction.  Much is made about data-driven instruction now-a-days, but the old-fashion daily assessing of students through regular classroom instruction provides the proper feedback for an educator to help their students.

Harm to students
An aspect of the harshness of this one-time test score is the penalty that can be placed on a child.  I have received emails recently from parents whose children have been devastated by the state assessment results.  One parent stated her child's middle school would limit her son's participation in band because he had to attend academic intervention because he scored below a three.  Her son excels at music and it is a very important part of his education and life.  Another parent recalled how her daughter missed the proficiency score by two points and feels like a failure.  In New York City, which requires students score at proficiency or above to move on to the next grade level, a large number of students were told that they had to attend summer school before test results were found to be incorrect.

Invalid scoring process
Another issue is the grading of the test itself.  While teachers are given a training lesson and grade example questions using a rubric, we can still be subjective when looking at an answer.  Some teachers have higher expectations, others easier.  I have graded state assessments for years and have seen a single answer get two or three different scores.  Teachers who grade the assessments are also subject to overload.  When I grade my own class papers and assignments, I take breaks, as grading over a hundred essays can turn your mind to mush.  On state assessment scoring days teachers are subjected to an assembly line style of grading and as the day wears on, our mental focus and concentration wanes.  It is certainly possible that your child's state assessment contains scoring errors.  If the exam was graded again would the score change?

Secretive process
If you are concerned or curious about your child's test results, ask your child's school to see the test.  Tell the school you want to see the test booklet and your child's actual answer sheet.  Sadly the whole state assessment process is a mystery to parents.  Why can't we see our child's actual test after it is scored?  Why is the process so secretive? The exams are scored in early May, what does NYSED do with the data for months?

These are some of the major reasons why I oppose the use of high-stakes exams to judge our children and their teachers.  There are too many variables that render the state assessment results invalid and useless.