Testing for the test

MV Whisman district working out kinks in practice exam program

There are still some kinks to be worked out, administrators with the Mountain View Whisman School District said, but the practice tests teachers have been using to prepare students for the end-of-year statewide exam appear to be contributing to higher scores.

For two years now, students in local elementary and middle schools have been preparing for the California Standards Test by taking practice exams compiled by an education company called Curriculum Associates.

Superintendent Craig Goldman cautioned that two years of data is not enough to conclude with certainty that the practice tests are helping, or will continue to help. However, Goldman said that he is "pleased with the overall growth both in language arts and math scores" since the district introduced the practice exams.

"It's nice to see that progress is being made," said Mary Lairon, the district's associate superintendent. "It's really helpful in understanding what standards have been taught and what standards need to be taught -- and what children need to have in terms of additional instruction."

The tests, which are given once each trimester, cover common California standards. Curriculum Associates has designed the tests to mimic the CST -- both in the way the questions are asked and how the tests are administered.

Teachers are able to quickly reference individual student scores and determine who needs to improve and on which topics. In some cases, Goldman noted, teachers have been able to pinpoint types of questions that confuse certain students, such as word problems or story comprehension.

In addition to the practice test's benefits, both Lairon and Goldman said that they have observed some flaws with the tests -- both inherently and in the way teachers have been administering them.

Lairon noted that that the Curriculum Associates tests do not have any questions that require a written response.

"Curriculum Associates is just one piece of the puzzle," Lairon said. "If I were to create my ideal assessment system, I would create a mix of assessments" -- including both written and multiple-choice questions, like the CST has.

Goldman said next year he would like to see teachers be more selective about which portions of the Curriculum Associates tests they give throughout the school year. "I think the tool is useful, but I think it's worth considering modifications to the tool to fit our needs," he said.

Over the past two years, the students have been given Curriculum Associates tests that covered material they hadn't been taught.

It can be useful for a teacher to know if a portion of a given class is ahead of the curve. For everyone else, it can be stressful and damaging to self-esteem when there are questions they don't understand, Goldman said.

Students need to be able to succeed taking standardized tests; on the other hand, the district needs to make sure it is not wasting time, he said. The test takes about two hours, Goldman noted. "I tend to agree that giving a fairly lengthy assessment to students at the beginning of the year is not creating a lot of benefit."

"This is a work in progress," he said.


Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm

rem is a registered user.

Gee, in my day (the FIFTYS) we didn't have "pre-test" . We either knew it or we repeated the grade...

I believe they were teaching us something called - THINKING!!!!!

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Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I do think that when you need to have tests and a teaching program just designed to prep kids for a test, things have gone terribly wrong. Instead of saying "The tests are causing issues, we should rethink them." They say "The students are having issues with the tests, so we need to teach them to take the tests better." That is the tale wagging the dog and an example of much that is wrong with modern education assessment.

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Posted by Kevin McBride
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

As a parent of students taking these tests, I can verify that they are very useful. Hearing various criticism of standardized testing in the media, I was somewhat skeptical of the testing. But I have now looked closely at the tests and they seem very well designed and test an amazing array of knowledge and critical thinking.

The pre-testing is also a very good and practical exercise. When my kids do the pre-test and get something wrong, we discuss the question and possible answers. We look at their answer and why they chose it. We look at what is the correct answer and discuss what the test makers are trying to test -- what knowledge or critical thinking is involved in finding the right answer.

As an example from doing this yesterday with my 3rd grader. One question asked what numbers are involved if the product is 750 (I don't remember the exact wording). My son got it wrong because he did not know that 'product' is the result of multiplication. He was unfamiliar with the terminology, though he could do the multiplication involved easily. After our discussion of the problem, he now knows what 'product' and 'quotient' mean and he was reminded that when he sees unfamiliar words, he should ask. As a result of the pre-testing, he increased his mathematical vocabulary and learned a lesson about learning -- ask questions.

This is not a waste of time or "teaching to the test" -- this is essential knowledge, problem solving, and learning how to learn.

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Posted by @ Rem
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Don't know where you grew up, but where I grew up, the teachers would give us a quiz, which actually IS a pre-test. It helped us to understand what the test would be like - what we could expect.
Same type of thing.

However, now, students need to learn how to bubble. It is atually a weird concept for kids. Soon, they will start teaching THAT in preschool.

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

I would 'third' Kevin and Rem. Standardized testing has some use (the US Army has been using it since WWI) and these versions of the state STAR tests are reasonable practice tests. It is called "formative testing". Test their understanding as students form their understanding. QUIZ is a good analogy. These are the QUIZs for the STAR. It is very hard for classroom teachers, on their own, to make tests that look and feel like the STAR.
Kevin's experience with his own 3rd grade son also brings up a problem. How much of this 're-teach' is being done in the classroom? For us Stanford, Cal, San Jose State etc. parents - parent help is fine. What about the less educated families in out district? This is where the community efforts (and pleads) to volunteer at the "south side" schools is so vital.
Rem, as a second-career teacher - I also found it weird to teach "bubbling", but second grade needs it for the STARS, so introduce it at 1st. They catch on pretty fast!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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