October 5, 2007

Backlash against formative assessment

As reported in the Orlando Sentinel education blog, some educators are worried about the time occupied by tests given throughout the year, tests that school districts hope will track predicted scores on the spring tests in Florida (FCAT):

In plain language there are 8 full student days wasted on these tests. By the time FCAT comes around the students are burned out and I have a strong feeling that they will not be giving 100% on the FCAT. (a correspondent with the reporters)

It's hard to know how to evaluate that claim without knowing more specifics, but there's a fine line between not assessing students enough and wasting time. If you give students a five-minute math quiz every Friday for tracking purposes (apart from any unit tests), that's maybe 10 minutes for test administration a week (at least for students; this doesn't count grading). I think that's reasonable. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to see such quizzes last for 40 minutes every week unless they're very good tests. But then again, in my high school U.S. history class, we wrote an essay a week arguing about the interpretation of the topic of the week. Multiply 45 minutes times the 30-33 weeks that the full curriculum was in force (apart from short weeks and the very start and end of the school year), and that's well over 20 hours of testing in a year on that subject alone. But those were very good tests, as activities in and of themselves.

The danger of very long tests in multiple-choice formats is that they aren't very good, and the school district employee quoted above may well be right: the sheer volume of such testing can alienate students very quickly. (If you disagree, try filling out your income taxes every month as a formative exercise.) And then the longer-term danger is that such effects can undermine the use of formative assessment even when it does have a light footprint in the classroom.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on October 5, 2007 10:11 AM |