Archives for category: Standardized Testing

Kevin Ohlandt blogs at Exceptional Delaware.

He left the following comment in response to Peter Greene’s post about “Lab Rats for America.”

“But where oh where would all of this become incorporated? Look no further than the home of 85% of U.S. companies… the First State… Delaware. On May 2nd, Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced his state would begin to look at changes in state regulations and state code to allow for Blockchain start-ups to come to Delaware.

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/governor-markell-launches-delaware-blockchain-initiative-300260672.html

“As well, we have a coding school in Delaware which was founded by Ben DuPont, of the legendary DuPont family of Delaware. The same family that actually created many of the “brown schools” in our state in the early 20th Century. Also a big supporter of charter schools.

“This is what is has all been leading up to. And opt out? They love it. As long as they resist it just enough to issues threats and build the base for more parents opting out. Not wholesale, but steady increases. That way they can “realize the error of their ways” and lead us to a digital personalized learning competency-based education paradise where the state assessment is no longer given once a year, but throughout – in the form of end of unit online assessments. At the end of the year, the total scores will be calculated and serve as the official state assessments.

“Because these are also part of students grades and their ability to move on, the ability to opt out becomes moot. Teachers (or rather, glorified digital moderators), will get immediate feedback. The tests won’t be as long, so parents won’t have to worry.
They are three steps ahead of us, always. While we are lashing out about PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and teacher evaluations, they are laying the groundwork for all of this.

“They can say this is an attempt to erase all inequity, but we know that is a false narrative. This is the corporate takeover of America. This is the end of public education.
But the question we ALL need to ask ourselves… how do we stop it? We are seeing coding classes in 3rd grade in Delaware. Are kids actually laying the groundwork for a lot of this already? You know this is a data-mining paradise for them.

“The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has been pushing this in our state for a long time. Our State Board of Education and Dept. of Education are the most deceptive and fraudulent parts of our state.

“If we want to save public education and, I’m going to say it, the future of the country, we have to act now.”

Two researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, surveyed parents who opted their children out of state tests and confirmed what leaders of the test refusal movement have long asserted. Parents don’t opt out because they are controlled by unions. They don’t opt out because, as Arne Duncan once said, they are fearful that their child is not as smart as they thought.

“Teachers College unveiled the findings of Who Opts Out and Why?—the first national, independent survey of the “opt-out” movement—which reveals that supporters oppose the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and believe that high-stakes tests force teachers to “teach to the test” rather than employ strategies that promote deeper learning. The new survey also reports concern among supporters about the growing role of corporations and privatization of schools.

“For activists, the concerns are about more than the tests,” said Oren Pizmony-Levy, TC Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education, who co-authored the study with Nancy Green Saraisky, Research Associate and TC alumna. “We were surprised that the survey reveals a broader concern about corporate education reform relying on standardized test-based accountability, and the increased role of ‘edu-businesses’ and corporations in schools.”


Who Opts Out and Why? also reveals that opt-out proponents oppose high-stakes, standardized testing because they believe it takes away too much instructional time.”

This is an instance where research confirms common sense.

Chalkbeat interviewed one of the authors of the study, who said:

It’s the breadth of the movement that’s noteworthy, explains Oren Pizmony-Levy, one of the report’s authors.

“It’s not just about the tests. They’re saying something bigger about the direction of education reforms in the U.S.,” Pizmony-Levy said. “It does bring together all sides of the political spectrum.”

The most common reason opt-out supporters cited for boycotting the tests was opposition to using test data to evaluate teacher performance, with 36.9 percent of respondents listing that as one of their top two reasons to support opting out (45 percent of the respondents work in education). That was followed by concerns over teaching to the test (33.8 percent), opposition to the growing role of corporations in schools (30.4 percent), fears that the tests cut into instructional time (26.5 percent), and opposition to Common Core standards (25.8 percent).

Roughly half of those surveyed self-identified as liberal, while nearly 18 percent identified as conservative.

The authors noted that there is some potential bias in the data because it depends on accurate self-reporting, and was disseminated electronically, which largely excludes those who don’t have internet access.

But Pizmony-Levy said the survey still begins to sketch out a more detailed profile of who opts out and why. (On the most recent math and English exams, 21 percent opted out across New York state, as did 2.5 percent in New York City.)

“I think what this is telling us is activists disagree with the current direction of education reforms [which include] … ideas about accountability from the business world,” he said. “They’re saying maybe there are other directions we should go.”

Vermont is the smartest state in the nation. Not because of test scores, but because the officials in charge of education actually care about children and about education. When they look at the state’s children, they see children with names and faces, not just data. When they think about their schools, they see them as places where children should experience the excitement and joy of learning.

Vermont did not apply for a Race to the Top grant, meaning that it never was compelled to adopt Arne Duncan’s ideas about how to reform schools (which he failed to do when he was superintendent in Chicago).

Vermont never enacted charter school legislation. Vermont has its own kind of school choice program. If a district or town does not offer a public elementary or high school, students may receive a voucher to attend a private (non-religious) school. Such vouchers (called “town tuitioning”) are available only when there are no public schools available.

Vermont education officials think for themselves. Read their brilliant letter to Secretary of Education John King, advocate of high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, about the inadequacies of ESSA and his proposed regulations.

They say:

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better.

This thinking perpetuates a disabling narrative about public schools. We ask for leadership from Washington that celebrates the glories of what we can accomplish rather than unrelenting dirges.

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

The letter can be found here.

Michael Barber and Joel Klein have written a report for the World Economic Forum about how to achieve greatness in education. Their report is titled “Unleashing Greatness: Nine Plays to Spark Innovation in Education.”

Michael Barber is the chief education advisor for Pearson. Joel Klein is the ex-chancellor of the New York City public schools, former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify (which lost $500 million and was sold off by Murdoch), and current chief policy and strategy officer to Oscar Health Insurance, which recently announced a radical downsizing.

The old ways no longer work, they say. What is needed for the future is “whole system reform,” which has happened or is happening (they say) in Madrid, Punjab, London, and New York City. Presumably, Barber takes credit for London and Klein takes credit for New York City. (I note, however, as a resident of New York City, that the schools continue to struggle with many problems, and no one refers to the “New York a City miracle” these days.)

Fortunately, Professor Stephen Dinham of the University of Melbourne in Australia took on the job of analyzing the Barber-Klein formula for greatness.

He sees the report as an illustration of what Pasi Sahlberg called the “Global Education Reform Movement” or GERM.

He writes:

“The terms ‘playbook’ and ‘unleash’ are loaded and instructive. A playbook, in sports, provides a list of strategies or moves for players and teams to follow. These are essentially step-by-step formulae intended to achieve success. In the case of this report, there are nine. Oh that education – and interrelated services such as health, employment and public infrastructure – could be reduced to such a simplistic list. The term unleash implies releasing from restriction and confinement, in this case, opening up education to ‘choice’ and the ‘free’ market. As I have noted, typically, ‘Choice, competition, privatization and the free market are [seen as] the answers to almost any question about education. (Dinham, 2015a: 3).

“Let’s now consider the latest simplistic recipe designed to address the ‘manufactured crisis’ in education (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Berliner & Glass, 2015), a crisis that is in danger of becoming reality if we ignore the evidence and follow such ideologically and financially underpinned and driven prescriptions (Dinham, 2016).

“The authors’ ‘plays’ are:

“Provide a compelling vision for the future

Set ambitious goals to force innovation

Create choice and competition

Pick many winners

Benchmark and track progress

Evaluate and share the success of new innovations

Combine greater accountability and autonomy

Invest in and empower agents of change

Reward successes (and productive failures).

“Detail on ‘how’ to achieve the above is lacking, although brief case studies where these have purportedly been successful are provided (e.g, New York, Chile). A common theme is the belief mentioned previously that deregulation, competition and choice will deliver an overall lift in educational performance. The evidence is however, either weak (e.g., on greater school autonomy) or contradictory (e.g., vouchers, charter schools, free schools, chains or academies) (Dinham, 2015a).”

Read both the report and the critique. Funny the authors don’t look at Chile and Sweden, two nations that took the path they recommend, with disastrous results.

We now know that the national convention of the NAACP endorsed a strong resolution opposing the expansion of charter schools, saying that they foster segregation, target communities of color, remove community and parent voice, and impose harsh discipline.

But what do civil rights groups think about testing?

Our reader Laura Chapman wrote about this question.

She wrote:

Before ESSA was passed, about 30 members of the 200 member of the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” lobbied Congress and USDE to continue the use of use of disaggregated test scores as if this was the only “objective” way to identify disparities in education. NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., participated in this effort.

Of course, the charter industry exploits these disaggregated measures to justify their test-centric schools and to promise they can do better than public schools in providing ”high quality seats” in struggling urban districts.

In April of 2016, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to John King requesting that these features of ESSA not be compromised in the guidance letters he might issue to states.
http://www.civilrights.org/advocacy/letters/2016/ESSA-implementation-framework.html

Also in April, the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” published a survey of African American and Latino parents on what they want from schools. The survey promotion had this headline and lead-in:

“Parents: Schools Not Preparing Students of Color for Future.” http://www.colorlines.com/articles/parents-schools-not-preparing-students-color-future

The survey was conducted by Anzalone, Liszt, Grove Research “a public opinion research firm specializing in message development and strategic consulting. For nearly 20 years, we have helped clients ranging from President Obama, to EMILY’S List, to Microsoft achieve their goals.”

The Survey promotion continued “From lack of funding to low expectations, a new survey finds that Black and Latino parents don’t trust public schools to help their kids succeed.”

Given this lead-in, I thought the survey might deal with “trust in public schools.” Not so. In fact we do not know much about the survey other than the published methodology does not meet minimal standards for research: For example, we do not know if the parents who participated in the survey by landline or mobile phone had children in public, charter, or parochial schools. We do know that the 400 African American and 400 Latino participants lived in Chicago or in Philadelphia. Perhaps Julian can discern the messaging function of the survey get the full survey not just the survey, and discern why the headlines were framed around “trust in public schools.”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/99tklsqp6aykxgk/New Education Majority poll summary.pdf?dl=0

My impression is that this is a push poll created to support a messaging campaign. I note, for example, that the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” received $878,338 in October 2015 from the Gates Foundation ”to make the national education policy conversation more reflective and inclusive of a civil rights framework of equity and access by including more diverse voices and perspectives.” That is Gates-speak for promoting access to charter schools.

The Gates Foundation has a sure-fire method of winning hearts and minds.

Your advice is needed. What is the best way to improve graduation rates, without cheating or gaming the system.

The Los Angeles Times recently published two editorials about high school graduation rates.

The first looked at the new phenomenon of “online credit recovery” as a means of helping students get credits to graduate. As a general rule, online credit recovery has a poor reputation. A few years ago, the NCAA conducted its own investigation and found online programs in which the questions were so simple that students breezed through them. In some cases, they were given more than one chance to answer a multiple choice question. The Los Angeles public schools are using a program with a better reputation than most, but questions still remain about the educational value of online courses for students who should have face-to-face encounters with teachers.

The second editorial reviewed the methods that states have devised to boost their graduation rates, such as lowering standards, eliminating exit exams, online credit recovery, reclassifying students as “leavers” rather than dropouts, etc.

The editorial contains some startling good sense, as in this section:

Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara, is not a fan of measuring a school’s success by its graduation rate for precisely that reason: Doing so encourages schools to lower their standards or to use misleading numbers or to find ways to get failing students out of their schools without having to count them as dropouts. In any case, he says, “a diploma is a blunt instrument” for measuring learning; one study found that low-income students need to show better mastery of the material than merely a pass in order to have a real shot at reaching the middle class.

Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers.
Like it or not, Rumberger says, higher standards — such as those in the Common Core curriculum standards recently adopted in California and most other states — tend to mean lower graduation rates, and it’s disingenuous for states to say they can raise both at once, and quickly.

This is the first time I have seen a public admission in the editorials of a major newspaper that raising standards lowers graduation rates. This is a contrast with the usual blithe claim by pundits and legislators that making tests harder will force kids and teachers to try harder, to “up their game,” thus producing more learning. Rumberger is right: When the tests are harder, more students will not pass.

The editorial concludes:

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which never did much to encourage higher graduation rates, might be dead, but its successor will have little chance of succeeding if policymakers aren’t realistic about the work and patience required to raise standards, test scores and graduation rates. It’s slow, hard, incremental work without magic solutions, and improved numbers aren’t always evidence of better-educated students.

The editorial is thoughtful, and I don’t mean to cast aspersion on the writers’ efforts to puzzle through this dilemma. But the quest for higher test scores and higher graduation rates was the singular goal of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. An honest assessment compels a frank admission that NCLB and RTTT failed. Even if one can find examples of higher numbers, do they really demonstrate that students are better prepared or do they reflect the result of twelve years of test prep?

Chasing better data is not the purpose of education, and we make a grave error by doing so. As the LA Times acknowledges, most of what has been produced at a cost of many billions over the past 15 years are creative efforts to game the system.

It would be far more fruitful to ask different questions: How can American schools do a better job of preparing students to succeed in life after high school? How can they encourage students to pursue learning on their own? How can they awaken a need to know? How can we reduce the growing racial segregation in our schools? (If only the $5 billion wasted on Race to the Top had been used to promote desegregation and to collect data on successful efforts to do so!) Are they adequately resourced and staffed to meet the needs of children growing up in extreme poverty, students without medical attention, students who come to school hungry, students who are homeless?

Until we ask these questions, the data are meaningless, as are such noble aspirations as “No Child Left Behind” by the magic of annual testing or “Every Student Succeeds” by a combination of standards, testing, and data.

Many parents and educators are outraged by the over-testing and misuse of testing that has been embedded in federal policy since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year in grades 3-8, as we have since the passage of NCLB.

Young children sit for exams that last up to 15 hours over two weeks. The fate of their teachers rests on their performance. Parents remember taking tests in school that lasted no more than one class period for each subject. Their tests were made by their teachers, not by a multinational corporation. Parents can’t understand how testing became an endurance trial and the goal of education.

Politicians claim that the tests are necessary to inform parents and teachers and the public how children in one state are doing as compared to their peers in other states. But this information is already reported by the federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Parents have figured out that the tests don’t serve any purpose other than to rank their child. No one is allowed to see the test questions after the test. No child receives a diagnosis of what they know and don’t know. They receive only a score. In every state, the majority of children have been ranked as “failures” because the testmakers adopted a passing mark that was guaranteed to fail close to 70% of children. Parents have learned that the passing mark is not objective; it is arbitrary. It can be set to pass everyone, pass no one, or pass some percentage of children.

In the past 14 years, parents have seen the destruction of neighborhood schools, based on their test scores. They have seen beloved teachers fired unjustly, because of their students’ test scores. They have seen the loss of time for the arts, physical education, and anything else that is not tested. They have seen a change in their local public schools that they don’t like, as well as a loss of control to federal mandates and state authorities.

In the past, testing companies warned that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. Now, these corporations willingly sell their tests without warning about misuse. A test of fourth grade reading tests fourth grade reading. It should not be used to rank students, to humiliate students, to fire teachers and principals, or to close schools. But it is.

Communities have been devastated by the closing of their neighborhood schools.

Communities have seen their schools labeled “failing,” based on test scores, and taken over by the state or national corporate charter chains.

Based on test scores, punishments abound: for students, teachers, principals, schools, and communities.

This is madness!

What can we as citizens do to stop the destruction of our children, their schools, and our dedicated educators.

Opt out of the tests.

Use the power of the powerless: Say NO. Do not participate. Withdraw your consent from actions that harm your child. Withdrawal of consent in an unjust system. That’s the force that brought down Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walensa said no. They were not alone. Hundreds of thousands stood with them, and the regimes with their weapons and tanks and heavy armor folded. Because the people said no.

Opting out of the tests is the only tool available to parents, other than defeating the elected officials of your state (which is also a good idea, but will take a very long time to bear fruit). One person can’t defeat the governor and the local representatives. But one person can refuse to allow their child to take the toxic tests.

The only tool and the most powerful tool that parents have to stop this madness is to refuse to allow their children to take the tests.

Consider New York. A year ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in full attack mode against teachers and public schools, while showering praise on privately managed charters. He vowed to “break the monopoly” known as public education. The New York State Board of Regents was controlled by members who were in complete sympathy with Cuomo’s agenda of Common Core, high-stakes testing, and evaluating teachers by test scores.

But in 2015, about a quarter million children refused the state tests. Albany went into panic mode. Governor Cuomo convened a commission to re-evaluate the Common Core, standards, and testing. Almost overnight, his negative declarations about education changed in tone, and he went silent. The legislature appointed new members, who did not share the test-and-punish mentality. The chair of the New York State Board of Regents decided not to seek re-appointment after a 20-year career on that board. The Regents elected Dr. Betty Rosa, a veteran educator who was actively supported by the leaders of the opt out movement.

Again in 2016, the opt out movement showed its power. While official figures have not yet been released, the numbers evidently match those of 2015. More than half the students in Long Island opted out. Federal and state officials have issued warnings about sanctions, but it is impossible to sanction huge numbers of schools in middle-class and affluent communities. The same officials have no problem closing schools in poor urban districts, treating citizens there as chess pawns, but they dare not offend an organized bloc in politically powerful communities.

The opt out movement has been ridiculed by critics, treated by the media as a front for the teachers’ union, belittled by the former Secretary of Education as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed that their child was not so bright after all, stereotyped as privileged white parents with low-performing children, etc. There are indeed black and Hispanic parents who are part of the opt out movement. Their children and their schools suffer the greatest penalties in the current testing madness. In New York City, where opt out numbers were tiny, parents were warned that their children would not be able to enter the middle school or the high school of their choice if they opted out.

Thus far, the opt out movement has not been discouraged or slowed by these tactics of ridicule and intimidation. The conditions have not changed, so the opt out movement will continue.

The reality is that the opt out movement is indeed a powerful weapon. It is the one weapon that makes governors, legislators, and even members of Congress afraid of public opinion and public action. They are afraid because they don’t know how to stop parents from opting out. They can’t control opt out parents, and they know it. They offer compromises, promises for the future, but all of this is sham. They have not let go of the testing hammer. And they will not until opt out becomes the norm, not the exception.

In some communities in New York, opting out is already the norm. If politicians and bureaucrats continue on their reckless course of valuing test scores more than children, the opt out movement will not be deterred.

Save your child. Save your schools. Stop the corporate takeover of public education. You have the power. Say no. Opt out.

An insider in the Florida Department of Education leaked confidential information to this blog.

She writes:

The Florida Department of Education requires that 3rd grade students be promoted to fourth grade if they score Level 1 on the state reading test score or at least at the 45th percentile on the SAT 10. Or they may present a portfolio showing they meet grade level standards. How did the Florida Department come up with the score at the same 45th percentile as the bar? How did they set the bar? Have they mislead Floridians?

Attached is a study that shows that the Florida Department of Education set a standard above Level 2 to promote students:

“In order to promote a student from grade 3 to grade 4, the student should be at least in FCAT reading achievement level 2 or above. In other words, the student’s FCAT-SSS scale score should be higher than 258. The concordance table provides an equivalent Stanford 10 scale score that is 591, or the 25th national percentile on Stanford 10.”

See the report here.

A reader of the blog posted the following comment. She asks the question: What can a standardized test tell the teacher that the teacher doesn’t know already? The answer: nothing. To be precise, “absolutely nothing.”

 

 

She writes:

 

 

One of the most demoralizing moments of my teaching career was being forced to do ACT prep with my secondary ESL students. We would read the questions together, trying to figure out some way of breaking it down into something manageable, and then the students would furrow their brows or just check out completely, and we would all end up frustrated. And I would think, “I’ve spent the last 7 months building a safe classroom community in which students can grow and learn and express their ideas… and then I betray all of that with this absurdity?”

 

Another demoralizing moment was having to administer the ACCESS test to ELLs. We had to test every single student in the bilingual program even if they weren’t actually taking bilingual or ESL classes anymore. In addition to losing class time, the bilingual department teachers gave up every prep period and lunch period for about 5 weeks to test students individually on oral proficiency. You want to know about the life cycle of the boll weevil? I could tell you. That was on the test two years in a row. One girl had literally arrived to the U.S. the weekend before and enrolled the day before the testing began, and she had to take it. She opened the booklet, flipped through the entire thing not able to answer any of the questions and looked up at me in complete bewilderment. Luckily, I speak her native language and give her some reassurance, but I felt like a failure as a teacher and an abomination of a human being.

 

Those experiences affected me deeply, and I wish that I had had more knowledge then. I was young and new as a teacher, and frankly, I was overwhelmed. Now, I do my best to read up on what’s going on in education (thank you, Diane, for making that task infinitely easier!), and my mantra nowadays is “opt out.” There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that those tests could tell anyone that I, as the students’ teacher, couldn’t tell them first.

A growing number of studies conclude that students perform worse on tests when they take them online than when the questions are on paper.

A study published by MIT and conducted at the U.S. Military Academy found that the students who did not use computers scored significantly higher than those who did.

The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching.

The study divided 726 undergraduates randomly into three groups in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. The control group’s classrooms were “technology-free,” meaning students were not allowed to use laptops or tablets at their desk. Another group was allowed to use computers and other devices, and the third group had restricted access to tablets.

“The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,” the researchers concluded, suggesting that the distraction of an electronic device complete with internet access outweighed their use for note-taking or research during lessons.

The research had an unusual twist: the students involved were studying at the West Point academy in the US, where cadets are ruthlessly ranked by exam results, meaning they were motivated to perform well and may have been more disciplined than typical undergraduates.

But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much, and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices.


“Our results indicate that students perform worse when personal computing technology is available. It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point,” the researchers concluded.

The Hechinger Report reported that writing online essays may contribute to a widening of the achievement gap.

The U.S. Department of Education launched a study of fourth graders using computers for writing compared to fourth graders using paper and pencil.

High-performing students did substantially better on the computer than with pencil and paper. But the opposite was true for average and low-performing students. They crafted better sentences using pencil and paper than they did using the computer. Low-income and black and Hispanic students tended to be in this latter category.

“(T)he use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap,” concluded the working paper, “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment.” If so, that has big implications as test makers, with the support of the Department of Education, move forward with their goal of moving almost all students to computerized assessments, which are more efficient and cheaper to grade.
In the study, high-performing students — the top 20 percent of the test takers — produced an average of 179 words per assignment on the computer, three times the number of words that the bottom 20 percent produced. They also used spellcheck, backspace and other editing tools far more often. The researchers found that these high-performing students were more likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

But these high achievers were in the minority. More than two-thirds of fourth-graders’ responses received scores in the bottom half of a 6-point scoring scale that rated grammar and writing quality. Overall, the average fourth-grader typed a total of 110 words per assignment, far less than the 159-word average on the 2010 paper test.

In looking for explanations for the disparity in performance, it seems likely that the high-performing students are more familiar with computers than low-performing students or even those in the middle.

But it is also likely, at least to me, that it is easier to read and re-read a passage when it is on paper than to read it online. Some young children may have difficulty scrolling up and down the page.

And there may be a difference in recall associated with the medium. That requires further study.

Let me confess that I have tried and failed to read books on a Kindle or similar device. It is easy to lose your place; it is hard to find it again. Maybe the difficulty is age-related; after all, I have only been using a computer for 32 years and began using it as an adult. Children who grow up in the digital age may not have the same visual problem that I have in reading large blocs of text. But it will take more studies to figure out when it is beneficial to use the computer and when it is not. Unfortunately policymakers have rushed into online instruction and online assessments on the assumption (untested) that there are no downsides. They do this, as the Hechinger Report says, because the computer makes it easier and cheaper to grade tests. Standardization has some benefits. But it also has drawbacks. We should be aware of both.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176,844 other followers