Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let's just do what we're already doing

This afternoon, Greg Couros asked this question on Twitter

If standardized tests are not the best for data for schools, what data can we use? I would love to hear your thoughts.                                                                                                                      

I've wondered this same thing many times myself.  I can even think of a few (very few) good reasons for standardized tests, but that's a hill I'll die on later.  My response to Greg was simply to use standards based grading and evaluate student portfolios.  Let me give you a real life example from right here in good ol' North Carolina where portfolios are used as the "unofficial" trump of all of our end of grade, standardized testing.

Here in NC, we administer end of grade (EOG) tests for third through eight grades.  Many of the mainstream, college prep courses in high school have end of course (EOC) tests as well.  We also have what are called "gateway" grades - third, fifth, and eighth.  If you do not pass your EOG's for this grade, you are given five hours of remediation and a retake.  Incidentally, my district has determined to really make sure students are ready and have made EVERY year a gateway year.  If after the retake you still do not pass, then you have the option to go through the waiver process.  A waiver committee hears the case presented by the teacher and sometimes the parent on why the student should have the EOG standard waived so that he or she can advance to next grade.

I have prepared waiver portfolios for my own students.  I have served on waiver committees for other teachers and schools.  Every grade and course has a standard course of study (SCOS) divided up into goals. Among other things the portfolio contains, the most important are sufficient samples of the student's work that demonstrate proficiency for the individual goals within the SCOS.  I do not have good solid stats on this, but from what anecdotal evidence I've been able to gather from my colleagues and my own experience, less than five percent, perhaps lower, of the students taken to waiver are actually denied.  In every case that I have personally experienced on either side of the waiver table, the decision to waive was justified as "Student has made adequate progress".

Here's what gets me.  Every teacher, EVERY teacher, hates the EOG.  Every teacher and committee member look for proficiency in individual goals.  If this is how it's going to go down anyway, then why don't we start there and save literally billions of dollars each year on tests?  If teachers are going to use standards based grading to justify a student's progress, why aren't they already using it on a regular basis throughout the year?

It is true most of the samples submitted show that a student got 80% of the questions right,so some changing still needs to happen there.  But why, in the name of all that makes sense, why the heck aren't we doing what we are already doing anyhow?

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