Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Is Your Testing on the Level?

Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Is Your Testing on the Level?

Article excerpt

(Editor's Note: At every national gathering of educators who are concerned with technology or reform, I hear the same lament from every state: The obsession with standardized test scores has set our agenda back decades. In some cases, it is impossible to propose project-based learning, because the entire academic year is devoted to practicing for statewide testing. It doesn't have to be that way. Improvements in health can be traced to new treatments made possible by advances in diagnosis. Yet, our schools' approach more closely resembles an autopsy: The results come back when it's too late to help the patient.

"Our computerized testing system provides more valuable data for educators, months faster than traditional standardized tests," says Allan Olson, executive director of the Northwest Evaluation Association. "In addition, our tests are valid for use in measuring special student populations and gifted students, often omitted from traditional school reports."

The vibrant approach Dave Montague describes below has the power to transform learning, once we break the stranglehold of how we think about assessment. Merged with technology, tests can be more fair, and vastly more useful, for shaping learning strategies that work for all students.)

That's never going to happen! We can't do that!" That was how several teachers at Washington Elementary School responded to reading goals we set based on new state education reform laws and changes from our school board. It's a cry familiar to any organization that sets new, higher goals.

The concern is genuine. Without change, new goals are difficult to reach. But as our team realized the benefits in what our legislature and board advocated, we quickly went to work to make it happen.

Our goals included new state education benchmarks, called Essential Learning Requirements (ELRs), and our board's "90 percent reading goal" (i.e., all third graders within the district should read at or above grade level1). With this clear challenge before us, we set out to find the tools that would help us meet our goal.

Tests Highlight Student Progress

Knowing how to read is essential to mastering other subjects. That's why the board asserted, "Assessing elementary reading should be the first step in assessing student achievement in grades three through 12."

We agreed with that assertion; therefore, we began our steps toward academic change by implementing an assessment tool that would provide the data we needed to measure and track student growth. Since one of our goals is mastering the ELRs, which are measured in fourth grade through our state test, our tool had to measure progress prior to this grade. It also had to show us where and how changes should be made to meet the goals on time.

We chose the Northwest Evaluation Association's (NWEA) Achievement Level Test for Reading as our assessment tool. Also known as the functional level test, it provides curriculum-referenced data that aligns with and measures our standards.

These tests provide accurate information about individual student growth because students take the test level that matches their ability level. They show growth well for low-, average- or high-achieving students.

Additionally, scores are interpretable across grade levels. As a result, the tests provide a fair and reliable measure of student achievement over each school year. The tests are exactly what we need to track student progress toward our 90 percent reading goal and our ELRs.

Our school of 460 students administers the tests beginning in the spring of second grade, in the fall and spring in third and fourth grades, and in the spring of fifth grade. Scores for the tests are returned within a few days, while the test material is still fresh.

In addition to the level tests, a computerbased version, called Computerized Adaptive Tests (CAT), is available. Because scoring for these tests is immediate, schools have a quick way to screen students, place new students in school programs, and "spot check" student progress. …

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