There are many types of assessment in life – formal, informal, mental, physical, spiritual, psychological, etc.  We take tests to become certified in our professions, we undergo medical testing in order to diagnose and treat an illness, and we challenge ourselves to possess mental toughness.  We have been shaped for assessment our entire lives as we begin rigorous standardized testing in school at a young age.  Some people may argue that this practice helps individuals develop a healthy practice of goal-setting and organized preparation that can extend into adulthood.  Some argue that more and more young students are developing text anxiety and other negative side effects as a result of the constant high-stakes testing they face.  After A LOT of research on the use of standardized testing as a benchmark for school accountability, I propose that all states in our country throw out differing standardized testing practices in favor of a national progress-monitoring model.  Details of this proposal are outlined below.

1a.  My third recommendation is on the state and national level.

1b.  My recommendation is that there be one national standardized test measuring student progress and all other high-stakes testing at the state level be eliminated.

1c.  This recommendation is in response to my observations of media coverage of the institution of education as well as the information in the units Assessment, Contexts and SES, and Educational Policy.

1d.  “Chapter 14: Standardized Testing” gives a detailed account of the types of tests that are administered in schools today.  On page 534, there is a table outlining the “Inappropriate Uses for High-Stakes Test Results,” which include pass/fail decisions and teacher evaluations.  The author of this chapter adapted the table from another book that is copyrighted by Pearson, the company that now develops the ISTEP+ tests and the teacher certification exams in Indiana.  All three of these “inappropriate uses” are being implemented by schools and the government in the state of Indiana.  National federal laws are passed that require states to implement accountability systems, and then the responsibility is handled by each individual state government.  The reality of life in our country, though, is not quite as clear cut.  Individuals do not always grow up in one state, go on to attend college in that state, and then settle into life and a career in the same state.  Most often, individuals move from state to state while growing up and attending school, university, and advancing in their career.  Allowing states to impose vastly different sets of standards and administer vastly different standardized tests results in many confused students, parents, and citizens of our nation.  

1e.  One result of this recommendation is that students can move from state to state and at least have some idea of what to expect regarding standardized testing.  Teachers would be able to understand the students’ scores from previous years and actually know if they achieved target growth, instead of wondering how the different states’ tests are to be interpreted.  A second result is that states could spend more time, effort, and money on improving school climate and encouraging schools to seek funding for academic programs that are focused on higher-order critical and creative thinking skills.  A third result would be a higher level of unity in our nation among those involved in the education system.   

What do you think about high-stakes standardized testing?



The Teacher In Me

I was talking recently with a college student about online courses and blogging.  Last semester, I took a course that reviewed all of the facets of Educational Psychology.  Our final exam assignment was to make three recommendations based on what we had learned in the course and in our experiences.  My recommendations were very bold.  As I wrote them out, I kept thinking to myself, “This stuff will never happen.  The powers-that-be would laugh in my face if I tried to suggest these things.”  But my professor must have at least somewhat agreed with what I had to say because I received full credit for the assignment.  So, in a series of posts, I will share my recommendations and perhaps someone, somewhere will also agree and have the power to change something.

Recommendation #1

1a.  My first recommendation is for the teacher/classroom level.

1b.  My recommendation is that all teachers prioritize assessment pieces in which students explain how they reached a particular conclusion or developed an answer to a question or task.  

1c.  This recommendation is in response to three of my own personal observations within the classroom.  One observation is that standardized tests such as ISTEP+ now include performance tasks which are more complicated than they have been in the past.  A second observation is that in a society which is increasingly driven by instant gratification, students are not taking the time to analyze how they reached a particular conclusion.  They only want to know if their answer is “right” or “wrong”, and in some classes, all answers could be “right” with justification.  But students are unable to provide such justification.  My third observation is that there is a push towards including higher-level thinking skills, and this recommendation supports these skills.

1d.  The EDPSY 600 course content that led me to this recommendation is contained in the units Development and Cognitive Theory, Assessment, and Effective Teaching.  The Eggen et. al. Chapter 2: Cognitive and Language Development gives specific examples of how teachers can encourage cognitive development.  One of the examples states, “Involve students…and encourage them to use language to describe their developing understanding” (62-63).  In Chapter 15: Classroom Assessment, this idea is reiterated through the lens of testing.  The section Authentic Classroom Assessment states, “Authentic assessment asks students to perform.  The performances may be thinking performances, physical performances, creative performances, or other forms” (555).  When students explain how they reached a particular conclusion, especially on an assessment, they are demonstrating mastery of the not just the course content, but also the processes applied in the course.  Mastering these processes leads the student to be able to adhere pieces of content from different courses, for example Biology and English, and allows the student to more easily formulate answers to the higher-level thinking questions being presented in a variety of situations.  Finally, Kathleen Cotton’s “Effective Schooling Practices: A Research Synthesis” gives specific recommendations that are proven by research to be highly effective for maximizing student learning.  One recommendation is, “1.3.5 – Teachers use validated strategies to help build students’ critical and creative thinking skills” (14).  

1e.  Prioritizing critical thinking processes within the classroom will lead to better results on performance assessments and standardized tests.  Doing this will also eventually lead to better results when giving students autonomy within the classroom, school environment, and their personal lives.

Key word here is AUTONOMY – I’ll discuss student autonomy in another post.  Stay tuned for more recommendations.


“Doing Well” – Defined

Ever say to yourself, “I just haven’t been doing well lately…”?  I don’t mean physically well, as in your health.  There are many health obstacles people face on a daily basis.  I don’t really even mean mentally, or emotionally.  Many aspects of our lives affect our mental state-of-being, just like our physical health.  I mean you say this to yourself, thinking you somehow need to “do better.”  You’ve been falling asleep in the middle of your prayers, so you need to be a better Christian.  You only gave your toddler one vegetable today, AND she ate a cookie, so you really need to be a better mom. You noticed a pimple forming on your chin, so you need to do better with your skincare.  You didn’t crush your workout, you need to be in better shape.  Your husband seems distant, you need to be a better wife.  All of these thoughts lead us to feel we just aren’t doing well lately.  We aren’t good enough, we need to be better.

Guess what.

This is Satan talking.  Shocking to say out loud, I know.  I still sometimes shudder when I say his name out loud, or contribute him to something working in my life.  In his indelibly insightful satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes something along the lines of, “Give him the underlying thought that, ‘I haven’t been doing well lately.'”  Nothing gives Satan more pleasure than our doubt of ourselves.  Especially when this doubt is general and all-consuming.  We may doubt our ability to write a good proposal at work, but that doubt can be overcome by persistence, long hours of work, and a good editor.  We may doubt our ability to bake a cake, but that doubt can be overcome by careful reading and following of directions.  Here we have doubted only our ability to do something.  Doubting ourselves in general is much bigger, and much harder to overcome.

A counselor once made a flippant comment to me, “You need to give yourself some grace.”  As if that was the easy fix.  “I’m cured!” I would shout.  “Everything is perfect!  I have given myself grace!”  Why did he think I was sitting on a couch in his office?  It was because I “wasn’t doing very well” which led to me distancing myself from God, convincing myself my husband didn’t love me, and at times, doubting that Christ loved me.  How could Christ love a woman whose own husband didn’t love her?  How could Christ love someone who sometimes fell asleep praying?  How could Christ love someone who avoided going to church because it made her feel even more alone, as she looked out over the sea of people rejoicing in their Savior, and wondering why she didn’t feel as happy as they did?

Jesus, in John 16:27 tells us, “…the Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  God loves us, no matter how well we think we’re doing at being a spouse, parent, colleague, or Christian.  I will choose to redefine “doing well” as waking up and loving Jesus.  Accomplishing anything else is just icing on the cake.