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What are the alternatives to standardized testing?


Michigan recently increased the time spent on mandatory testing for eleventh graders, in some cases requiring eight partial days of testing. Educators across the country are concerned about the growing number of tests kids must take and how the time spent on them detracts from actual learning. But if you cut back on standardized tests, what can we do to gauge student learning and, in turn, teacher effectiveness?

Anya Kamenetz, author of Our Schools are Obsessed With Standardized Testing – But You Don't Have to Be and NPR's lead digital education reporter, joins us to discuss the state of standardized testing today as outlined in her recent article for NPR.

In 2001 No Child Left Behind created the federal requirement for standardized testing in grades three through eight, and is a large factor in the amount of tests students are required to take today.

Kamenetz has come up with alternatives to accompany or replace standardized testing's stronghold on how we evaluate students and schools.

1) Sampling. Instead of requiring all students to participate in disruptive testing every year a smaller number of students that are statistically representative of the school or district would be used.

2) Stealth assessment. Learning software, some already being used by schools, gives us the ability to  keep track of students' every answer throughout the year. Incorporating large amounts of data can lead to a richer and more detailed picture of student performance that can also aid in improving instruction.

3) Multiple measures. Many schools are already using longitudinal data systems to track students from pre-K through high school. Incorporating information taken from different school environments over time can help to provide feedback on how schools are working and changing.

3a) Social and emotional skill surveys. Collecting information on how students feel about being in the building, their hopes, engagement and well-being can lead to a greater understanding of how to improve learning environments.

3b) Game based assessments. Using video game-like simulations can help to gauge how kids make decisions and understand complex systems by compiling information as they play.

3c) Performance or portfolio-based assessments.  Projects and presentations created by students individually or with a group can help demonstrate kids’ skills and hands-on experience in various areas of study.

4) Inspections. School inspections are still used widely in the UK. Not so different from a health inspector, a team of experts usually made up of experienced educators, visit schools and pose questions that can lead to school's self-reflection and goal-setting.

No Child Left Behind and the standards it has set for testing are overdue for re-authorization. Kamenetz says, "There is a surprising consensus on the right and the left: teachers unions, the Democratic Party, and the GOP that there may be too much testing going on."

*Listen to our conversation with Anya Kamenetz on Stateside on 3 p.m.

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