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Discussion: Student assessment: Identifying and measuring impacts on students

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posted by: Mack McCary on June 17, 1999 at 6:01PM
subject: state tests vs. diagnostic measures
Brain observed that the measures teachers use to
find out what students know often don't look like
state tests, and that teachers report the state tests
aren't very helpful. In our district, guess that
would depend on the purpose of testing. On the plus
side, our state tests in NC, at least in grades 3-8,
are criterion referenced, and as surveys of whether
the knowledge and skills in the curriculum have been
taught, they aren't too bad, especially as measures of
the growth of groups of students. However, with
younger students, teachers report that the distractors
in the multiple choice measures seemed design to
"trick" novice students, and they are not always
convinced the tests are accurately measuring what they
claim to assess.
However, as measures of individual student
achievement, these state measures are terrible! There
is a great deal of error for individuals. We have
been working for several years in our district and
with others to develop more individual diagnostic
measures, as well as increase our use of authentic
tasks which call for and demonstrate a greater depth
of understanding than multiple choice measures.
There are some rather standard, individualized
measures we've found useful in reading, such as the
John's inventory and Accelerated Reader reports which
show a range of literal comprehension. However, math
has been more problematic. We have had some luck in
using teacher-designed and computer-designed multiple
choice assessments, along with released state items,
to assess knowledge and skill.
When we have used more observational judgments in
math, teachers are more comfortable when they are used
to inform instructional decisions, less comfortable
when those judgments are used in grading decisions.
So I believe, Brian, our teachers would tend to
agree with those you observed. The state type of
measures are useful for making judgments of progress
for groups of students, but more individual and
observational assessments are needed for judging
individual student progress. And those state measures
usually tap a level of understanding, namely knowledge
and skills, which are necessary but not sufficient to
assess whether students understand the math well
enough to explain it, make connections, and especially
apply it flexibly in realistic contexts. We are very
much concerned that the limitations of multiple choice
testing are driving teachers towards short term gains
at the expense of focusing on developing student
understanding of math concepts.

Dr. C. E. McCary III
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools
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