Can Today’s Tests Yield Instructionally Useful Data?

The answer is no, or at best not yet.

Some heavy hitters in the academy just released an article that might be of interest to you all. In the article the authors discuss whether “today’s standardized achievement tests [actually] yield instructionally useful data.”

The authors include W. James Popham, Professor Emeritus from the University of California, Los Angeles; David Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University; Neal Kingston, Professor at the University of Kansas; Susan Fuhrman, current President of Teachers College, Columbia University; Steven Ladd, Superintendent of Elk Grove Unified School District in California; Jeffrey Charbonneau, National Board Certified Teacher in Washington and the 2013 US National Teacher of the Year; and Madhabi Chatterji, Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

These authors explored some of the challenges and promises in terms of using and designing standardized achievement tests and other educational tests that are “instructionally useful.” This was the focus of a recent post about whether Pearson’s tests are “instructionally sensitive” and what University of Texas – Austin’s Associate Professor Walter Stroup versus Pearson’s Senior Vice President had to say on this topic.

In this study, authors deliberate more specifically the consequences of using inappropriately designed tests for decision-making purposes, particularly when tests are insensitive to instruction. Here, the authors underscore serious issues related to validity, ethics, and consequences, all of which they use and appropriately elevate to speak out, particularly against the use of current, large-scale standardized achievement tests for evaluating teachers and schools.

The authors also make recommendations for local policy contexts, offering recommendations to support (1) the design of more instructionally sensitive large-scale tests as well as (2) the design of other smaller scale tests that can also be more instructionally sensitive, and just better. These include but are not limited to classroom tests as typically created, controlled, and managed by teachers, as well as district tests as sometimes created, controlled, and managed by district administrators.

Such tests might help to create more but also better comprehensive educational evaluation systems, the authors ultimately argue. Although this, of course, would require more professional development to help teachers (and others, including district personnel) develop more instructionally sensitive, and accordingly useful tests. As they also note, this would also require that “validation studies…be undertaken to ensure validity in interpretations of results within the larger accountability policy context where schools and teachers are evaluated.”

This is especially important if tests are to be used for low and high-stakes decision-making purposes. Yet this is something that is way too often forgotten when it comes to test use, and in particular test abuse. All should really take heed here.

Reference: Popham, W. J., Berliner, D. C., Kingston, N. M., Fuhrman, S. H., Ladd, S. M., Charbonneau, J., & Chatterji, M. (2014). Can today’s standardized achievement tests yield instructionally useful data? Quality Assurance in Education, 22(4), 303-318 doi:10.1108/QAE-07-2014-0033. Retrieved from http://www.tc.columbia.edu/aeri/publications/QAE1.pdf

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