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Re: Popham at NEA Regional

Great Report George!!

----- Original Message -----
From: George Sheridan
To: ARN-L@listsrva.CUA.EDU
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2002 2:47 AM
Subject: Popham at NEA Regional

W. James Popham inspired union leaders from nine western states (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and Utah) at the NEA Pacific Regional Leadership Conference February 15-17.

In his keynote speech Popham built on the widespread and deeply-felt opposition among teacher activists to high-stakes standardized tests, declaring his intention to provide teachers with arguments they can use in fighting to change the tests.

Beginning with the statement that "Traditionally constructed standardized tests are inappropriate for judging the quality of educational programs," he discussed the ESEA, saying that the "No Child Left Behind Act" is really the "No Teacher Considered Competent Act." When the law is fully implemented, he said, "The vast majority of you will be in low-performing 'failing' schools."

A dynamic, wisecracking speaker who declared, "You can't measure temperature with a tablespoon," Popham outlined the history of standardized testing in America, emphasizing the World War I Army Alpha test as forerunner and model of norm-referenced tests. On such tests, as members of this list are well aware, score spread is imperative. 50% of students must be at or above average; 50% below. A reduction in score variation could even result in a negative reliability coefficient.

In contrast, Popham asserts, "Highly effective instruction results in a different distribution: more concentrated at the high end of the range." Using his own teaching experience as an example, he said that at UCLA he gave 80% A's because the course got better and better. (I was seated at the same table with a veteran teacher who studied under Popham over thirty years ago and agreed Popham was the best teacher he ever had.)

Popham gave three main reasons why traditionally-constructed standardized tests are inappropriate for judging the quality of schooling.
a.. The generality of tests' descriptions leads to mismatches between what's tested and what's taught. As he said, the "murkiness" of the descriptions of test content makes them more saleable, because each state can find or assume some match between the test content and the state's "wish-list curriculum."
b.. There is a tendency to eliminate items covering the most important, teacher-stressed content. Even when such items make it into the first edition of a test, they tend to be replaced in later editions because, since they are important, widely taught and widely learned, too few students miss them and the test results do not produce the desired score spread.
c.. Confounded causality makes it impossible to tell what caused students' scores.
a.. Some test items measure what's learned in school.
b.. Some items measure what's learned outside of school.
c.. Some items measure academic aptitude.

Having identified what's wrong, Popham proposed a different type of assessment system. Referring to the report of the commission he recently chaired <http://www.nea.org/nr/nr011023.html> he highlighted the requirements for instructionally supportive assessment, particularly emphasizing requirement number one: prioritizing standards. In the words of the commission report, "A state's content standards must be prioritized to support effective instruction and assessment." Regardless of whether a state has 400 standards or 1,500, they must identify a small number of the most important standards for assessment. Calling for states to "Abandon the instructional hypocrisy that hundreds of standards can be taught in 180 days," he added that it is equally hypocritical to say that you can assess them in an hour and a half.

"If you use the same old same old test, it's not going to help children and it's going to hurt you," he said.

Popham also participated in a workshop on ESEA and conducted a small-group session on designing classroom assessment. The split-and-switch technique he demonstrated provides teachers with irrefutable evidence that they are effectively teaching important content.

NEA President Bob Chase, in his address concluding the conference, identified testing as one of the three most important issues facing the association in coming years. (Number one is the need to turn around the schools of greatest need.) This seems like a significant advance over the organization's position just a year or two ago.

Popham had given a similar speech recently at the NEA Midwest Regional Leadership Conference. (Alfie Kohn presented at the New England Conference.) At least a dozen NEA state affiliates are now using the report on Building Tests to Support Instruction and Accountability - A Guide for Policymakers to shape their legislative programs. The Popham commission also prepared a second document: a sample RFP (Request for Proposal) to be used as state departments of education move to comply with the ESEA.