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My Students Reflect On Standardized Tests

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Thankfully, we completed the annual regimen of state tests this week. I’ve written quite a bit on these kinds of standardized tests — see My Best Posts On How To Prepare For Standardized Tests (And Why They’re Bad).

Now, I thought it would be interesting to hear what my students thought…

As part of our regular Friday reflection, I asked my ninth-grade mainstream English class and my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class to respond to these two questions:

1) Do you think state tests accurately measure how much you have learned? If so, why? If not, why not?

2) Can you think of any other ways that would accurately measure what you have learned?

Most, though not all, students felt like the tests were not an accurate measurement. Of course, my individual conversations with students prior to the tests might have colored their feelings. Since the majority of my students are classified by the state as “Far Below Basic” or “Below Basic,” I was, and am, not interested in having my student believe that to be an accurate description of who they are.

Even if I hadn’t had those prior conversations, though, my sense is that a majority of them would still not have believed in the accuracy of the tests.

Here’s one common refrain:

“They are not accurate measures of what I have learned because sometimes they test me on what I learned ages ago. Other times they test me on something that my teacher didn’t teach me at all.”

Seeing this common so often reminded me of two things:

One, how long do we expect to students to have the ability to recall facts that they have learned? How long do any of us remember a lot of what we learn? And, as a column in The New York Times says, in the age of external knowledge, are the criteria used by test creators to determine what deserves to be memorized have much basis in reality?

Secondly, education researcher Robert Marzano says that it would take 23 years to teach all the standards to our students. That means it is not humanly possible for students to learn all the standards they will be tested on. How fair is that?

I was struck by my students’ recommendations on what they thought would accurately measure what they learned — including doing projects and teaching others. In fact, all of their suggestions, it seems to me, fall into the realm of performance based assessment.

What do you think your students would say if you asked them these two questions?  And, if you have asked them, or will do so in the future, please share their responses in the comments section.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I too have just completed some ESOL exams and the board we use has an unfairness not identified in your post. The exams are themed and we are specifically instructed not to teach to the theme. Of course we skirt around it and try, without breaking the rules, to present similar themes that will give the students a fighting chance.
    I have a number of students who are extremely depressed at failing their reading exams and my attempts to lift their spirits haven’t been very successful. Some students have talked about leaving their classes altogether. They are all adults and if they choose to leave all I can do is try to talk them out of it.

    I hadn’t thought of getting formal feedback on what they think of the exams but I think I’ll try it.

    If I get anything useful or interesting out of it I’ll post it back here.

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