Popham on Standardized Achievement Tests
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Popham on Standardized Achievement Tests
- From: George Sheridan <email@example.com>
- Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003 21:19:54 -0700
California Educator is the monthly magazine of the California Teachers
Judging schools is right task, but it uses the wrong test
California Educator, September 2003
Volume Eight, Issue 1
"You can't measure a temperature with a teaspoon," says testing and
assessment expert Dr. W. James Popham. "It's the wrong tool."
Likewise, the emeritus professor of education at UCLA told teacher leaders
at CTA's Summer Institute, you can't use standardized achievement tests to
measure student performance. They're not designed to measure what's being
taught or learned, but what knowledge or aptitude is being brought to the
table. In fact, if a test item is answered correctly by too many students,
it's taken off the test in the next revision. A teacher who does a good job
and teaches students the material thoroughly will not be rewarded for the
The original test was developed to identify good officer candidates among
Army troops. It was a good test for its purpose - to create a spread of
test-takers, spot the best/ worst, and predict how well individuals would
perform - but the alpha model, as it was called, was "adopted lock, stock
and norm-referenced barrel by the makers of the standardized achievement test."
What teachers want and need is "instructionally supportive tests that
provide clear descriptions of what's tested; measure a modest number of
curricular aims; and supply instructionally informative results." In other
words, they need tests that give them information they can use to adjust
their teaching and fill gaps in student knowledge in a timely fashion.
Teachers are in a predicament, said Popham. They can't complain about the
tests too loudly. "Attempts to have the [test] replaced by instructionally
supportive assessments will be seen as a flight from accountability."
However, teachers can arm themselves with information as to why
standardized tests don't measure what they're supposed to and help parents
understand how the wool is being pulled over their eyes. They need to be
able to explain the likely impact of unsound tests, why inappropriate tests
give schools inappropriate labels, how tests may measure what students
bring to school rather than what they learn, and how to judge what schools
are doing the right way. "We have to educate parents and pertinent
policy-makers about the evaluative inappropriateness of standardized
achievement tests. And we have to collect convincing evidence signifying
that students are learning worthwhile things."
If something isn't done, Popham said, test prep will become even more
excessive than it already is; schools will continue to emphasize
test-focused drilling at the expense of the curriculum; and students who
are poor test-takers will get the subtle message that they should not even try.
The education profession did not sound the alarm effectively enough before
the federal government enacted the most recent version of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (the so-called No Child Left Behind Act of
2001). The federal program is using the wrong kind of test to judge
schools. "It's our fault as a profession," said Popham. "It's time to fix it."
But before the education profession can tell others how to fix the problem,
"we have to understand it ourselves."
Trudy Stephenson Willis
Post a Message to arn-l: