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All Tests Are Not Created Equal


Alison Crowley

"Your teacher's goal is simple—to help you reach yours." I use this motto, displayed on a poster in my classroom, to frame my thinking when it comes to educational issues—and the role of standardized testing is no exception. I have two criteria for judging assessments: 1) They must measure what students are learning in my classroom; and 2) they must in some way inform instruction to help my students reach their academic goals.

Two assessments that meet these criteria are: The ACT and the AP Calculus Exam.

In Kentucky, every high school junior is required to take the ACT in March. I spend instructional time preparing my students for that test because I know that their scores will have a direct impact on future opportunities, such as college admissions. The content on the math portion of the ACT matches what I am teaching in Algebra 2. The scores are used as a part of my school's accountability model, and I'm okay with that because the ACT math score (along with other measures of student progress) is a fairly accurate reflection of what students know and are able to do.

As an AP Calculus teacher, I believe that the College Board's AP Exam is an example of a quality summative assessment. It has a direct impact on my students since they have the opportunity to receive college credit during high school. The exam is written and scored by teachers and professors who know the subject matter like the back of their hands. Furthermore, the scores are based on student responses to multiple-choice and free-response questions, both of which require critical thinking skills.

These exams provide me with data that I use to make instructional decisions, both before and after the actual test date. I imbed released items into the curriculum and use them as formative assessments throughout the year. I chart my students' progress and talk to them about their goals. After I receive the results, I use the detailed summary reports to inform decisions for the following year.

The MAP test, however, does not meet my criteria—and that is why I stand behind the teachers at Garfield High School 100 percent. Unlike the ACT and the AP Calculus exam, the MAP test includes topics (such as adding fractions) that are not part of high school math curriculum. Therefore, a student's MAP score is not an accurate reflection of how much a student has progressed during the academic year. In addition to students being tested on content that is not taught in the classroom, the MAP test results have no impact on students' class grades, graduation or college admissions status. As the Garfield High teachers have stated, "We object to spending scarce resources on a test that is peripheral to our students' education."

It is inspiring to see a group of teachers stand up for what they know is best for their students, and it begs the question: What might have happened if teachers had a voice in the initial decision to administer the MAP test at Garfield High? What can we learn from this as we move towards Common Core-aligned assessments? How can we pro-actively ensure that future assessments accurately measure student learning and provide teachers with valid information that informs and improves instructional practices?

Alison Crowley is a National Board-certified teacher in Lexington, Ky., where she teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus.

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