Stop the Misuse of Tests

Chalkbeat, whose sponsors include such pro-privatization groups as the Gates Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, ran this piece about Indiana’s ILEARN test was.

Schools were quick to downplay ILEARN results, but experts stand by the test. Here’s why.

While school leaders and lawmakers were quick to reason away concerns over shockingly low ILEARN scores, some testing experts and state education leaders are standing by Indiana’s new exam.

Calls to shield schools and teachers from any negative consequences of the low ILEARN scores were swift, after it was revealed that only one-third of students in grades 3-8 passed both the math and English portions of the exam. But when detangled from the question of accountability, experts say the results provide a valid measure of what students know.

Low 2019 scores weren’t a sign of a faulty exam, said Ed Roeber, Michigan’s former testing director and a consultant on Indiana’s technical advisory committee for assessments, said. Rather, Roeber said, it’s a reflection of “what instruction is or is not taking place in our schools.”

“I’m not discouraged by low performance,” he said. “I think it could be a real rallying cry for Indiana schools to evaluate what they are teaching and what students are learning.”

The experts said that the test was “a valid measure of what students know.” If experts said that, they were not using precise language and were promoting invalid uses of tests. Actual tests and measurements experts ought to know better.

VALIDITY: WHETHER OR NOT A TEST MEASURES WHAT IT CLAIMS TO MEASURE

What might actually be true is that ILEARN was a valid measure of how much of the test content students knew…because that’s what a test measures. A test can be a valid and reliable measure of its content, but that’s as far as it goes. Student standardized achievement tests don’t measure everything students need to learn.

But you say the test covered Indiana’s State Standards? Even if it covered all of the standards, that’s still not everything children should learn in school.

Tests don’t measure what managers want from their employees, such as honesty, enthusiasm, growth, or the ability to work collaboratively in a group. They don’t measure creativity or loyalty or perseverance.

In fact, our standardized tests measure only a fraction of what we send our children to school for.

One important reason for not holding schools and teachers responsible for ILEARN is because ILEARN is a student achievement test, not a test of school or teacher effectiveness. Using a student achievement test to measure school or teacher effectiveness is like using a teaspoon to measure temperature. ILEARN wasn’t made to measure anything other than a student’s knowledge of its content. Using the test for anything else is invalid.

ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

In an op-ed for IndyStar, Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, said the results show persistent racial gaps. While 43% of white students statewide passed both portions of ILEARN, 15% of black students did the same.

We know that poverty has an impact on student achievement and test scores. Could the fact that 42% of Indiana’s black children live in poor families have anything to do with the “achievement gap?” Maybe we ought to hold legislators and policymakers (looking at you, Governors Daniels, Pence, and Holcomb) accountable for not providing equal education and employment opportunities or sufficient resources for all of the state’s public schools.

A VALID USE OF TESTS

The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association said that we ought to use the test as a baseline. We ought to use the test to “plan a course” for our students.

“The results from that should be a baseline,” said Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill. “It is time now for educators to sit down with the results from that, now knowing how the test operates and how to best plan a course for students moving forward so in years to come the results are a true reflection of the growth of that student.”

That’s exactly what standardized tests should be used for…to “plan a course” for students. Standardized tests should be used as instructional guides while keeping in mind that their results are skewed by student poverty and racial bias.

They should not be used to grade or punish communities, school systems, schools, teachers, and students. We ought to stop misusing standardized tests instead of just shielding “schools and teachers from negative consequences.”

Until we stop the misuse and overuse of standardized tests we’re throwing our tax dollars away. We’re wasting student and teacher time better used for something with actual value, like recess, fine arts, and physical education.

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