Adaptive Tests Could Answer NCLB Accountability Problems

October 29, 2007 1 min read

The next version to NCLB will almost certainly use growth models to measure adequate yearly progress. The idea is in the House’s discussion draft and just about every set of recommendations to improve the law (see here, here, and here).

A new report out today suggests the law should allow new forms of assessing students, too.

The report from a Delaware-based group says that NCLB should let states use computer-adaptive tests instead of grade-level tests, which are usually given with pencil and paper.

Grade-level tests, the groups says, are unable to measure progress of students who start the year either far below or far above grade level. Students at the lower end of the spectrum are going to fail a 4th grade test, even if their academic standing improves from 1st grade level to 3rd grade level. Similarly, high-achieving 4th graders will ace their tests, even if their achievement level didn’t increase during the year.

The solution is computer adaptive tests, the reports says. The adaptive tests pull from a bank of test questions with a wide range of difficulty. The computer adjusts the difficulty of the questions it poses based on the students’ performance on previous questions. If the student is answering questions at grade level, it gradually increases the difficulty. If he or she is struggling at grade level, the computer decreases the rigor of the questions to identify where the student performs.

In a pilot project, the Delaware group found that the adaptive tests did a better job identifying students’ academic growth than grade-level tests. If the tests were used to determine schools’ AYP standing, twice as many high-poverty schools would have met their AYP goals in the 2006-07 school year, the report predicts.

Computer-adaptive testing hasn’t been discussed in the reauthorization debate so far. With this report, it might be. In anticipation of the report, Reps. David Wu, D-Ore., and Tom Petri, R-Wis., last week introduced a bill to allow states to use adaptive testing instead of grade-level testing last week. Both are members of the House Education and Labor Committee. Rep. Petri is the Republican member with the most seniority on the panel.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.