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Administrator's Corner

What Do Tests Really Measure?
By Dawn Watkins with Bill Sponseller

Imagine the following conversations overheard at a parent-teacher night.

"My Suzi, a second-grader, scored a grade equivalent of 4.7 in reading; she could be advanced to reading material at a fourth grade, seventh month level!"

"Jack's composite percentile rank dropped from 67 to 61 points from one year to the next, and I am really concerned."

"A fifth grader who scores an 8.2 GE in reading and a 7.3 in math is definitely better in reading than in math."

"Well, I think the value of a curriculum or the effectiveness of a teacher can be judged solely by standardized test results."

"Achievement tests measure almost all of the important skills and objectives that you are trying to teach."

The quotations represent misunderstandings that people often have about what standardized tests can tell them about their children, the curriculum, and even teaching methods.

Misinterpretations
The first question reveals one of the most common misinterpretations: a grade equivalent of 4.7 in reading means the second-grade student performed as well as a fourth grader in reading. But the GE really means Suzi can read her second-grade material as well as a student in fourth grade can read the same second-grade material.

The second question shows how percentiles are often considered definitive and specific, when in fact they are approximate. For most students, a five-point to seven-point variance from year to year is probably immaterial. This point spread (or band) will vary from sub-test to sub-test.

A related misconception results from the confusion between percentiles reported on achievement test results and percentages reported for teacher-made tests. A student ranking in the 65th percentile did considerably above average on an achievement test, but a 65 percent on a classroom test is usually a D.

The third question addresses a superficial understanding: assuming that GE scores in subtests can be compared across the board. In comparison, the two test scores may represent equally superior performances because the range of GEs for fifth graders in this case is generally greater in reading than in mathematics. And, too, patterns of growth may vary from subject to subject and from year to year.

The fourth question rests on one of the most dangerous misconceptions about standardized tests. Many factors must be considered when determining a student's achievements, a teacher's impact, a curriculum's effectiveness, or a method's worth. To base educational decisions solely on test scores is the educational equivalent of deciding to buy a house sight unseen because the address indicates a good neighborhood.

The fifth question is an extension of the fourth. It shows how some people expect a test to tell them everything they want to find out-either about a student's progress and potential or about the teacher's work and the curriculum. Parents and teachers need to use their own observation and discernment to evaluate a student's progress, taking into account factors such as test-taking skills, maturity, and so on, and to recognize achievements in untested fields like art, music, philosophical values, and sophisticated thinking skills.

One test, or even a series of tests, should not be used alone to determine a student's grade placement or course grade or a curriculum's value.

Proper Uses
Standardized achievement tests can show students' knowledge of facts, skills and concepts common to the grade tested; year-to-year academic development (more accurate over extended periods); student academic strengths and weaknesses (in individuals to a limited degree); students' higher-order thinking skills, although in a limited way; and where investigation into such specifics as methods and effectiveness of curriculum.

A good test is a good tool for helping assess a student's progress. But it is only a tool, an indication-not the final word. Most parents wouldn't want a real estate agent to let them buy a house based on the address; and informed parents really won't want to make choices about education based only on test scores.

Explaining and Applying Test Information
When standardized test scores are returned, they create a certain amount of excitement. It is good to get some consensus in understanding the purpose and interpretation of tests before the results come back.

But even if that preemptive help cannot be arranged, explanations and questions from teachers and administrators along the way can clarify the results and make them more useful. For example, if a student scores in the 38th percentile in math problem-solving skills at the sixth-grade level, that score by no means indicates that "the student is just bad in math and will always have to work extra hard in that area."

Rather, you can explain, it means that the student on that particular day scored in approximately the 38th percentile in math problem-solving skills among all sixth graders who took the test. Then pose a series of questions that will help put the score into perspective for both you and the student and his parents, such as these, for example:

* What should we expect from this student based on his quantitative thinking skills?

* Should we emphasize visualization and understanding more, rather than focusing on drill and memorization?

* Does the student get enough practice in problem solving?

Despite what the news media and some politicians would have us think, test scores cannot tell us whether all is well (or not well) with a student, a school, materials, or teaching methods. Test scores do not indicate whether children are learning to think from God's point of view or whether they enjoy what they are doing and are starting on the path of lifelong learning. And, tests cannot tell the overall story of how a child's experience in school is preparing him for life. Such results-the results that matter most-must be evaluated by parents and teachers along the way, using a multitude of tools, of which a standardized test score is only one.

Dawn Watkins and Bill Sponseller are members of BJU Press Marketing and Sales, www.bjupress.com.

 

Product Roundup
Curriculum

Kogs-4-Kids from Gravitas Publications
Rebecca Keller, PhD, chief executive officer of Gravitas Publications, Inc., has announced the release of Kogs-4-Kids, a workbook supplement to Real Science-4-Kids Series (RS4K). The innovative program module, available now for Chemistry Level I, grades 4 - 6, contains the current RS4K Chemistry Level I textbook, the student workbook and teacher's manual, plus six KOGS workbooks that connect Level I Chemistry to 1) language, 2) history, 3) philosophy, 4) technology, 5) the arts, and 6) critical thinking.
www.gravitas.com

Cultural Geography from BJU Press
Tour the world with the new Cultural Geography textbook from BJU Press. Students "travel" from continent to continent around the world, studying cultures, land forms, climates, resources, economy, and governments. Reinforcement exercises and enrichment activities help ninth grade students remember important facts about each country. The teacher's edition contains lesson plans and supplemental activities, so the class can thoroughly explore areas of special interest to them. An accompanying toolkit CD is packed with additional artwork, diagrams, and reproducible student pages.
www.bjupress.com

Summerbook Company
Know it all in the fall with just one book. Summer Books K-7 review math, language arts, reading comprehension, and thinking skills. Parents pay one affordable price, and students do only one page per day during the summer. Studies have shown that summer review will produce higher standardized test scores and better grades in the fall. Parents can order from the Summerbook Company directly, or your school may order as a group. Don't let students forget what they learned during the year. Know it all in the fall with one page per day during the summer.
www.summerbookcompany.com

StudyDog
StudyDog has announced that its popular Adventures in Reading series can now be installed on school (LAN) servers. Before today, the StudyDog reading programs were available online and on CD-ROMs. Although CD-ROMs are easy to acquire and install, several technology departments prefer instructional software programs that can be installed and managed on the school's server and delivered to individual computers throughout the school. With the StudyDog Server (LAN) System, since the reading lessons are installed on the central server and distributed to the various client computers throughout the school, students can go to any networked computer to practice their own lessons.
www.studydog.com

Blue Skies Ideas
Blue Skies Ideas offers aerospace education products that help teachers, pilots, parents and other adults intrigue and motivate kids by using aviation and space. These "Aerospace Education-Activities and Ideas" CDs each contain more than 100 suggested aerospace activities and are organized by grade level and subject areas. Ideas are linked to the appropriate pages in the corresponding resources, which are included on the CD; no Internet connection needed. Thus, the products are extremely user friendly. In addition, sample lesson plans are included.
www.blueskiesideas.com

Equal Exchange
In response to hundreds of requests from parents and teachers, the Fair Trade pioneer Equal Exchange has introduced one of the first comprehensive Fair Trade curricula in the U.S. "Win Win Solutions: An Introduction to Fair Trade and Cooperative Economics" is designed for grades 4 through 9 and raises awareness of core issues concerning food production and global trade, and of the role of American consumers. Win Win Solutions' four units and 16 classes incorporate participatory methods and satisfy many basic U.S. curriculum standards including Social Studies, Geography, Math, and Economics.
www.equalexchange.coop/educationaltools

Critical Thinking Language Smarts Level C
The Language Smarts Level C from the Critical Thinking Co. teaches the language arts concepts and skills students are expected to know in first grade. It also introduces several skills and concepts normally taught in second grade. This fun, mind-building book teaches standards-based language arts and develops critical thinking skills. Language Smarts can serve as a core curriculum for language arts or as a supplemental resource. The book empowers children's minds as they improve their vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, reading, and writing skills. Language Smarts Level C was awarded a bronze medal in the Activity Book category of the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
www.criticalthinking.com

Principle Approach from FACE
What makes Principle Approach curriculum from the Foundation for American Christian Education different? It is a methodology that teaches mastery of language, to articulate subjects, and causes the child to produce. It is designed around the "Christian Idea of the Child." It puts God at the center revealing His heart for a child, shows the teacher how to draw out what God has distinctly placed in them in contrast to just pouring knowledge in. It is based on the foundation that each child is an individual and has a purpose. It is seeing education as the source for learning to see God in everything.
www.face.net

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