"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

MO Legislators - Here's The Follow Up You Need to Ask

The following email was sent to all Missouri legislators from DESE. Will any of them ask the follow up questions that need to be asked?

Dear Legislator,

You may have heard about Missouri’s state assessments for English language arts and literacy and mathematics changing in 2014-15 to reflect school districts moving to the Common Core State Standards. We wanted to tell you more about these assessments, and how they will help schools better assess program effectiveness and improve student achievement.

The new assessments are computer-based meaning the computer adjusts the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment in response to student performance. For example, a student who answers a question correctly will receive a more challenging item, while an incorrect answer generates an easier question. By adapting to the student as the assessment is taking place, these assessments present an individually tailored set of questions to each student and can quickly identify which skills students have mastered. This approach represents a significant improvement over traditional paper-and-pencil assessments used in many states today, providing more accurate scores for all students across the full range of the achievement continuum.

Better information for teachers: Optional computer adaptive interim assessments will provide a more detailed picture of where students excel or need additional support, helping teachers to differentiate instruction. The interim assessments will be reported on the same scale as the summative assessment, and schools will have the flexibility to assess small elements of content or the full breadth of the Common Core State Standards at locally-determined times throughout the year. 
More efficient and more secure: Computer adaptive tests are typically shorter than paper-and-pencil assessments because fewer questions are required to accurately determine each student’s achievement level. The assessments draw from a large bank of questions, and since students receive different questions based on their responses, test items are more secure and can be used for a longer period of time. 
More accurate: Computer adaptive tests offer teachers and schools a more accurate way to evaluate student achievement, readiness for college and careers, and to measure growth over time.

Computerized assessments allow teachers, principals, and parents to receive results in weeks, not months. Faster results mean that teachers can use the information from optional interim assessments throughout the school year to differentiate instruction and better meet the unique needs of their students.

If you want to experience the new assessments for yourself, try the practice test here: http://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/

Thank You.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Communications | 573.751.34

The questions that need to be asked in response to this email.

Dear DESE,

1. Better information for teachers? This statement is true only if the district decides to use these "optional" formative assessments. Nothing is free, so what can districts expect to pay for these "optional" assessments?  Currently, teachers provide their own formative assessments and districts are investing in curricula that include formative assessments. Where is the need/justification for additional testing?

2. More efficient and more secure? How does having more questions in the databank make those questions more secure? If you are claiming they are secure from cheating by teachers viewing the questions in advance, please provide evidence that this is a widespread systematic problem in Missouri that warrants the investment in this expensive mode of testing. What is the benefit to the student, taxpayer or teacher of "secure" questions?

To be able to claim that a question accurately assesses a student's achievement against a standard requires a significant amount of data on that particular question.  In an adaptive model, the sheer volume of questions means that any single question will have less students responding to it generating data. How then can you state that these tests, which have yet to be given, will be efficient and accurate measures of student achievement? Where is the data? This looks like an attempt to use an emotionally charged word, "secure," to describe something that has no real value.

3. More accurate?  More accurate than what? Where is the study that shows computers are better than other methods? Are we expected to take your word for it?

4. Faster results promised - Granted, the turn around time on student scores may be a little faster than scantron, but we give the summative assessment in April when the end of the school year is mere weeks away. There are months between when the kids take these tests and the next school year so speed of reporting is not really an issue. That data is only useful (marginally so) to the teacher who has those kids the following year since there is a retention loss in those intervening months and a totally new curricula and set of standards. Even if results were quick, the teacher would only have a few weeks to alter her teaching plan to affect the kids taking the test this school year. This is not terribly helpful.  The only way this speed is useful is if the schools uses the "optional" tests you refer to, but again we must ask at what cost? Most teachers grade their formative assessments in a matter of hours to days already. Please demonstrate the savings.

DESE has a tendency to promote new programs, touting their benefits without ever accounting for their costs. Many of these programs start with federal seed money, but the expectation is that the state will take up the lifetime cost of running the program. The SBAConsortium that you have gotten us into appears to be exactly the same. The U.S. Dept. of Education is supplying 100% of the funding now, but that funding will run out in September 2014. You have yet to tell the legislature how much our state's continued participation in the consortia is going to cost us. Your email does not list any of the costs for these assessments, formative or summative, and you do not indicate who is expected to pay for them. We cannot afford education "at any cost" here in Missouri. We need you to lay out the costs and identify the responsible parties for these "wonderful" assessments so we can determine if we can afford them.

Thank you. Missouri Legislator

1 comment:

  1. I just love the fact, that DESE is only now accepting bids to write the programs for these wonderful assessments so they don't "really" know how they will work. It is how they are HOPING the assessments will work. BTW, I called them last week and asked for the cost but as usual DESE is clueless.


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