Survey: Classroom, Formative Tests Far More Useful Than End-of-Year Exams

By Catherine Gewertz — May 05, 2016 2 min read
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Parents, students, teachers, and administrators place greater value on classroom tests and formative assessments than they do on summative tests used for accountability, according to a new survey.

The results, from a Gallup poll released Thursday, reflect a view reported widely: that families and educators find statewide accountability testing to have limited value. It was commissioned by the Northwest Evaluation Association, which has a keen interest in these matters: NWEA is the maker of the widely used MAP formative assessments. In the last four years, it has conducted periodic surveys gauging public opinion on assessment, such as this one, from 2014, about the amount of time students spend taking tests.

In the most recent poll, Gallup examined the attitudes of 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. The survey was conducted just as states begin contemplating the new testing flexibility they have under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As you likely know by now, the new law doesn’t change the requirement that states test students in grades 3-8 and high school. But it does give them new power to decide what to do about those test results. As states design new accountability systems, it’s up to them to decide what consequences, if any, to attach to test scores. The use of multiple measures to gauge student learning and school effectiveness—something other than one-shot summative tests, in other words—is something NWEA would have a reason to track and support. And it found a lot of support in the new poll.

Teachers told the researchers that they valued different kinds of assessments for different kinds of things. Statewide testing is useful in figuring out whether students are meeting “critical benchmarks,” they said, but not very helpful in identifying students who need extra support, or even in closing the achievement gap. Formative assessments get the highest marks for helping teachers figure out which students need more support, and classroom tests and quizzes are most valuable to teachers as a gauge of what students are learning.

Even though testing opposition among parents has been intense in some places, the Gallup poll found that parents see many kinds of assessments as valuable. But statewide tests got far less support from parents than did classroom and formative tests.

Principals weren’t cheerleading for state tests, either (excluding performance tasks, which are now part of some states’ tests):

When students chimed in, the poll results showed a perhaps surprising support for the instructional value of some tests. They reported that many types of tests can help them in their learning. As you read the chart below, keep in mind a key comparison figure that isn’t shown: Only 41 percent of students said that state accountability tests are helpful to their teachers in supporting their learning.

Separately, only 29 percent of parents said that state test results are useful for students, but 76 percent said classroom tests were. Only 26 percent of parents said state tests improve teaching or learning, according to the poll.

When it comes to the amount of time students spend on testing, teachers, principals and superintendents were far more disapproving than parents or the students themselves.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.