Assessment

State Tests Don’t Support Good Instruction, Panel Says

By Michelle Galley — October 31, 2001 2 min read
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State-level accountability programs must be changed significantly so that they adequately support teaching and assessment, a report released last week by a commission of educators says.

“Building Tests to Support Instruction and Accountability,” from the National Education Association.

The state-mandated tests now being used are so insufficient they “are causing educational harm, perhaps irreparable harm, to thousands of American children,” W. James Popham, an emeritus professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the chairman of the Commission on Instructionally Supportive Assessment, argued at a press conference here.

In addition to Mr. Popham, the commission includes the leaders of the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, and the National Middle Schools Association.

The nine recommendations outlined in the report set a framework for states to follow as they adjust their testing programs to answer President Bush’s call for annual testing of all students in grades 3-8 in reading and mathematics. That provision is included in both versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization now being considered by a committee of Congress.

States need to set priorities for their standards and relay the most important standards in “educator-friendly descriptions,” so that teachers will be able to focus their instruction, the report says.

Teachers are often presented with large documents of standards and don’t know where to begin or what is crucial, Margaret E. Goertz, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “Whatever is on the assessment is what becomes important to teachers,” she said.

Showing teachers how to use test results to improve their instruction is also key, the report says. It adds that states need to provide educators with assessment tools that evaluate student progress on academic-content standards that state tests don’t cover. In addition, states should monitor curricula to make sure that those subject areas are being adequately taught, it says.

Testing the Testers

To make sure that states are providing assessments that meet the commission’s criteria, the panel plans to issue report cards on each state that grade how well their testing plans mesh with its framework.

“If educators are accountable for test results, policymakers need to be accountable for the quality of the assessments,” said Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the Washington-based AASA.

But because states can have a very different understandings of the recommendations, the commission needs to lay out more specifically what it is judging in each category, Ms. Goertz said. “I would suggest that before they go and issue a report card, they make clear what their criteria are for these requirements,” she said.

The state assessments in Connecticut stack up well against the report’s framework, said David H. Larson, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, an affiliate of the AASA.

But not everyone in Connecticut agrees that the state’s assessment program is on the right track.

Rosemary Coyle, the president of the Connecticut Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA, said that because teachers must focus so much time on preparing for the tests, they are forced to neglect subjects such as science and social studies that aren’t covered on the tests.

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