Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Holding students accountable for performance on state standards tests

I just got the newest issue (March 2011) of California Educator, the official union rag of the California Teachers Association. Although I am no longer a member of the CTA, my wife still is, so we still receive this sometimes unintentionally humorous magazine.

I must commend them though; they actually ran an article that touched on an important educational topic and didn't totally trash my views, as they are wont to do.

The article in question addresses one of my pet peeves about teacher accountability, and that is state standards tests. Too many members of the public out there do not realize that these tests, which are given every spring and are used to measure the success of a school and its teachers, leave the students more or less unaccountable. Every year, we have to buffalo our students into doing well on the tests by exaggerating or even straight up lying about the importance of the tests on their academic career. In reality, a student doesn't even have to take the test if the parent doesn't want him to, and if the student doesn't take the test, the school is held accountable.

Del Norte High School in Crescent City, California is trying something different. They are going to link student performance on these tests to the students' grades. This from the article:
If students score "proficient" or "advanced" on the California Standards Test (CST), they can raise their semester grade by one level. Students can go from an F to a D, for example, which can mean the difference between failing a class and passing. It's a radical departure from other schools, where students who perform well on standardized tests do not receive any direct benefit and teachers become frustrated by students filling in the bubbles at random.
The article address worries that students will slack off on homework and will depend on their CST performance to save their grade:
...those willing to take such a gamble are in the minority, and... if it does work for students, there's no harm done. "Homework is a learning aid," says [Junior Andrew] Napier. "This system rewards students based on their knowledge, and not on whether they complete meaningless busywork. If you understand the material and do well on your CSTs, what is the point of homework?"
While I will not completely agree with young Mr. Napier on the value of homework, I do agree that test performance should count more toward a final grade than completion of homework. As the article points out, testing out of a subject so you don't have to take a class is common in colleges. In fact, I tested out on several subjects to get my undergraduate degree.

Naturally, not everyone is a fan of Del Norte High's CST policy. Critics include the school's Social Studies department (what do those Social Studies guys know anyway?), some local parents, and the ACLU. The article doesn't do a great job of voicing their objections beyond a quote from one of the Social Studies teachers who "fears that the policy could be unfair to students who are unable to raise their grades."

My feeling on this policy is summed up by Del Norte High's principal, Coleen Parker, who says:
Because the state of California, our legislators, and the governor are holding schools accountable with the use of this exam and it has no bearing on a student's grade, I applaud my teachers for coming up with a way to utilize the scores to bring value of this test to students."
Hear, hear!

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


Anonymous said...

Last year at our high school, several teachers tried to institute a trial run to see if the grade bump would have an effect on test scores. My students scored the highest of any teacher in the school. Unfortunately, the administration and parents nixed the idea of "giving" the students a "free grade" just because of a test score. And I thought the purpose of all those benchmark tests and pacing guides was to verify the mastery of the subject matter.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

At least here in NV the HS have to pass the proficiency tests or they don't get a diploma. The issue is with the Freshmen students who take the 'Interim Assessment' that has no real value. Having it count as an official grade would do wonders to see what they really learned.

Like that will ever happen

Darren said...

You don't get the rag? I still do, and I haven't been a member for years. It's great fodder for my blog :-)

3rseduc / handsinthesoil said...

My school did the raise-your-grade thing and I see the validity...they obviously know the content you taught if they aced the test, even if they failed your class. However, it just teaches that there is a way out of doing work. I had a student who maybe turned in 10% of his work his grade was in the 20% range (different assignments carry different weight) which is an F. We don't give D's so that 20% F becomes a 71% C- when he aces his test. I liked the policy when say a student with a 78% C was able to raise their grade to a B....especially because it didn't have the range the F does.
I do think students need to be held accountable though. I humbly admit I've lied to them about the importance of it to them. sigh.

Mr. W said...

I actually helped get the ball rolling on this in our math department. I figured if an AP teacher could change grades after the fact, why can't a normal ed teacher?

We try to have a common policy in place, although ED Code says that the final determination is done by the teacher, so it isn't necessary to do so. I usually go 10% grade change for advanced and 7% for proficient. Advanceds don't happen very often in my subjects, so I really have no problem adding on 10% because most of the time they have an A or B+, so clearly they know the material.

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