Saturday, March 9, 2013

Slice of Life #7: Tested to Death - We Miss You, Informal Assessments

As a Math coach at my high school one of my jobs is to coordinate all district and site common assessments for my school.

I spent two days in the library calling in all of the students who were absent on district test day or needed more time to finish. Of course, more information about our students is very useful, but I feel the teachers' frustrations that between district, state, and site common tests, they have lost even more instruction time than ever.

I calculated the time I have spent proctoring standardized tests since my teaching career began 8 years ago and I came up with nearly 4-5 weeks of my career has been spent monitoring students as they take tests. When scores or performance is low, administrators think - okay, let's get more information about our students.

In the process, our government officials and district administrators have forgotten how useful informal assessments can be. Our teachers can tell with a quick sweep of the room after a whiteboard check who knows and who doesn't know how to "master the objective." We can give a notecard at the end of class and have students do a summarizing activity and we can find out how we need to monitor and adjust our lesson for the next day. We can listen to our students as they discuss and work cooperatively and gain quite a bit of information about their prior knowledge.

Maybe we should be spending more time training and using informal assessments to improve instruction. I think the scales are already tipped too far toward formal assessments.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly--but that might not cost enough money, and then companies like McGraw-Hill or Pearson would not get richer and would have a harder time controlling politicians. Politicians teach us to distrust ourselves or that THEIR data is more valuable than ours. I'm sure their solution would be to add MORE assessments and to find a way to standardize informal ones, as well... that way those can be destroyed (and generate more money for companies), too. Just call me Debbie Downer. I think I am when it comes to the interference in schools by politicians and companies who know nothing about children, learning, or best practice.

  2. I so agree with you on this. Teachers know so much more about their students...more than a standardized test can tell. We do need some standardized testing...but it should play a very small piece. I feel so sorry for students now...especially those who fear tests. I hope things will change...but I also agree with the comment from Chris...a lot has to do with the sad.

  3. Ah... the almighty dollar that rolls the wheel of standardized testing forward. All we can do is the right thing. Keep doing the formative assessments, providing useful feedback and teaching to what we discover.

  4. I agree! Most of ours are on things we haven't taught yet, and some kids get so stressed out over it. I already know they don't know it- why am I spending 2 hours letting them show me that when I can do something that takes 2 minutes and tells me the same thing. One time the test copies printed wrong and were all in symbols. We were told to let the kids continue to try it, anyway. ???

  5. Well said! Did you read Lindsay's post right before yours? CoGat testing on a Saturday. Yes, I would say the formal assessment scale has tipped way too far already. So sad.

  6. Four-five weeks out of an 8 year career is a considerable amount of time. I'm left wondering how much time my daughter who is a junior has spent taking them. With your time estimate, I'm guessing it is safe to say she's spent at least a month and a half.