Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to reprint this blog post from Eye On Education’s President and Publisher Bob Sickles.
In this post, Sickles asks a panel of school leaders to share their thoughts on standardized assessment data. Panelists discuss whether they or their staff have grappled with common misperceptions described in Cynthia McCabe's The Fearless School Leader, and if so, what they did to overcome them.
According to McCabe, standardized tests are sometimes disregarded because teachers and leaders mistakenly believe they 1) are void of rigor, 2) do not measure learning outside traditional academics, or 3) are unfair to lower-performing students.
Common Sense Leadership
Dr. Teresa Tulipana, Principal, Renner Elementary School
Kansas City, Missouri
Fear of data, especially standardized assessment data, is slowly becoming a thing of the past. In the early stages of high stakes assessments, many principals and teachers feared data. Their fear was not baseless. It was rooted in poorly written assessments, unrealistic mandates, concern for students traditionally defined as "at-risk," and worries of professional reproach due to poor scores. Over the course of the past 5-10 years, I have seen that fear dissipate due to the common sense leadership of principals.
Common sense leadership requires administrators to value standardized assessments for what they offer while simultaneously exploring additional data to fill in the gaps left by high-stakes assessments. In my school, standardized assessment data serves three major purposes: 1) to provide benchmark data with comparison schools; 2) to demonstrate achievement over time by tracking school and cohort trends; and 3) to help identify potential curriculum gaps. When used for these purposes, teachers and administrators need not fear standardized assessment data, but rather embrace it for its benefits.
Three years ago, Renner Elementary identified 10 schools across the State of Missouri that closely resembled our school based on student population size, diversity, and percent of students receiving free/reduced-cost meals. Statewide standardized assessments allowed us to compare our school's results with similar schools. Results that on the surface seemed much lower than desired were actually top scores based on our comparison schools. These standardized results allowed our school to realistically view our results and target interventions based on the successes of schools similar to ours.
Tracking of cohort data shifted the dialogue at Renner Elementary from raw data to growth data. By tracking cohort groups, we use standardized assessment results to celebrate student growth in addition to raw data. Last year it appeared that one grade level had a decline in its standardized assessment results. A look to cohort data showed that in actuality that cohort group of students had improved its performance by 13%! Without a clear look at cohort data, we may have spent countless hours trying to "fix" a curriculum or instruction problem that did not exist.
In addition, the standardized test data permitted us to dig deeper to expose potential gaps in our school’s curriculum. This year our school data points towards a potential curriculum gap in mathematics with measurement. Soon after discovering this gap, we initiated a cross-curricular emphasis on measurement. We increased the use of classroom data boards to measure classroom goals; we assured instruction of measurement not only in math but also science class; we created common language and raised staff awareness of this deficit. This response did not require the purchase of additional materials nor curriculum. All it required was awareness of the curriculum gap – and an exploration of standardized assessment results made this possible. Already, this response is proving beneficial for students and has increased staff collegial problem-solving conversations.
So, in my opinion, there is nothing to fear. Use standardized assessment data in a common sense way, and you will learn lots about your school while bringing teachers to the table for deep collegial conversations.
Lolli Haws, Instructional Superintendent for Cluster 7, District of Columbia Public Schools
Our best teachers know their students well, but even they are sometimes surprised by an individual student’s standardized test score. By noting a student’s higher-than-anticipated or lower-than-expected performance on these tests, teachers can consider factors they may not otherwise recognize in their students.
For example, standardized test scores can sometimes indicate grade-level equivalencies unrecognized in the context of the student’s day-to-day classroom performance. These cases may confirm a teacher’s recognition of particular students’ potential which the students themselves may not believe. A higher-than-anticipated score can provide proof to a student that he or she has untapped potential. Teachers can use this data to consider more rigorous work, seek insight into reasons for a student’s lack of classroom effort, and/or find new ways to help that student demonstrate skills in the classroom. Teachers can use numerous strategies to inspire these students to work and learn at their full potential.
Conversely, a student who receives standardized test results that are surprisingly lower than his or her classroom performance indicates a few alternative causes which also warrant further investigation. Was the poor performance due to a lack of effort in taking the test? If so, why? Was the poor performance a result of test anxiety? Knowing that these types of tests are currently the basis for college admission, test anxiety is a concern to address with a student to ensure that eventually he or she is able to demonstrate potential and academic skills in the future on these high-stakes college entrance exams. Finally, could unexpected poor performance indicate poor test-taking skills? Test language, test format, and test content comprise a unique 'genre' and need to be specifically taught and practiced.
Underperformance could be a strong indicator of a teacher’s need to help students learn the genre of standardized tests, question stems, ruling out distracters, and learning the vocabulary typically encountered on these types of tests.
David Ellena, Principal,Tomahawk Creek Middle School
In Virginia, we have been using the Standards of Learning tests for about 15 years now. When they were first introduced, these were concerns that we all had. At that time, teachers were concerned that they would lose the opportunity to be creative when teaching their students. They worried that they would have to devote so much time to studying and practicing for "the test" that they would not have enough time to cover the content that they considered important, or cover a topic as in-depth as they would like.
Since then, however, I am pleased to report that teachers have adapted their instruction to include creative lessons that do focus on the results that are desired. At Tomahawk Middle School, we ask our teachers to analyze the test data on a continual basis and to use this data for what it is – an assessment of where the students are and what they need to work on.
Having said this, I still worry about the subjects that do not fall into the testing spectrum, especially at the middle-school level. The Standards of Learning tests place a high importance on the core subjects, but it is important that we not lose sight of creating a well-rounded child. We cannot forget to encourage students at this age to explore different subjects and find their passion.
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