COMMENT: Don’t throw away standardized student tests – make them better – EdSource | Team Cansler

Courtesy: Granada Hills Charter

Students learn about polynomials in Janie Dam’s Algebra 2 class.

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Student overtaxing has increasingly become one of the political battlefields in our public school system.

It was among the five causes listed on the United Teachers of Los Angeles’ Beyond Recovery Platform. As EdSource recently reported, thanks to standardized test scores from the California Smarter Balanced and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we have a clearer understanding of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students’ academic progress. The alarming declines in performance in both math and English language arts underscore the importance of having objective student data available to clearly identify the learning gaps that need to be filled.

Standardized tests have accompanied us for thousands of years. The first documented occurrence dates back to 2200 BC. in the selection of officials in antiquity. Candidates for government posts had to prove their archery skills, among other things. Applicants were given three arrows to shoot at a human-sized and shaped object while riding. If all three darts hit the target, a Perfect score was earned; two the achievement of the goal was rated as Well; and if only one arrow hit the target, it was a happen.

In the last century, standardized tests existed in the United States in the form of hour-long multiple-choice and essay exams that could be just as tedious (and perhaps just as grueling, with college admissions based primarily on scores). We have come to recognize that these high-stakes evaluations have fundamental flaws: gender, wealth and racial bias and the undermining of results through expensive preparatory courses that level the playing field; even parent-sponsored fraud.

Newcomers to the country tend to converse in English before learning to write in the language, but standardized tests are largely not offered in a voice response format, except for the language exams themselves. The inability to accommodate high schoolers with special needs during the pandemic Granting access led to lawsuits and hastened a move away from College Board testing, which was clearly imminent and clearly needed in many cases. Many colleges and universities, including the University of California system, are jettisoning both the SAT and ACT as admissions requirements.

But this development leaves us with some inevitable questions: What lies ahead for data collection to track state and national progress towards a better educated workforce? Should all standardized tests be discarded in the fight against unhealthy overtesting and dangerous pitfalls that we have come to understand? There are forecasts of a shortage of millions of highly skilled and skilled workers in America, and global economic competition is likely to continue its steady rise. It would be foolish to deprive ourselves of a consistent means of measuring how our education system is serving our young people – and by extension, all of us.

The answer to overtesting students is not to discard all standardized tests, but to streamline and improve the assessment process.

The on-site Smarter Balanced (or equivalent) should be able to stand alone as a tool to meaningfully measure both higher education and future employability, whether through college or vocational training. This measure also serves to eliminate additional examination costs for students and parents who cannot afford them, and thus to close the gap between families with and without them. Transportation and access would be much less of an obstacle if the testing site is school campus and testing is conducted during school hours.

Fortunately, advanced education technologies like classroom robots can now make standardized assessments more workable for both teachers and homeschooling parents. In addition to data-driven machine learning, which leads to greater precision and accuracy, artificial intelligence is not weighed down by emotions. Interactive assistive technologies have unlimited patience because they don’t get frustrated like human teachers and parents, such as when children either don’t listen or don’t understand, and may have to repeat the same instructions many times; or when grading becomes too tedious and time-consuming.

Machines can be coded Not Scores are based on the test-taker’s gender, race, ethnicity, physical appearance, spoken accent, etc. They can be built to speak and understand multiple world languages, display images and glossaries, switch from text to speech and back.

But the most important key here is to design test questions and formats as part of a multicultural classroom that celebrates diversity, whether for use on the school campus or at home. The goal should be expanded test task banks and differentiated, equitable assessment protocols for assessing performance, both of which appropriately reflect the student’s cultural and linguistic background. And that too is easier to do with the help of artificial intelligence. Indeed, such personalization will pave the way for every child to benefit from an individualized educational program, not just children destined for special education.

Not that anyone wants or should have TikTok dictating their future, but before you poke fun at it, think about it this way: If TikTok can accurately predict what images, songs, videos you’ll like the most, why can similar algorithms not that one? Power TikTok may be able to predict which professional tasks and therefore which jobs you enjoy the most and which motivate you the most to stand out and then suggest, but leave it up to you to choose an appropriate course of study.


Janie Damm, is a math teacher and school-wide testing and data coordinator at Granada Hills Charter in Los Angeles for the past 13 years. She has been a professional educator and a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles since 2000.

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