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NIFL-ASSESSMENT 2005: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1192] RE: high-stakes te

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From: Howard Dooley (
Date: Mon Aug 01 2005 - 21:54:33 EDT

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Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1192] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal
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I really appreciate the discussion, and the varied experiences and
points of view.  I hope more of us will join in; I'm certainly learning
from your thoughts.  Marie's recent comment echoes a discussion going on
in RI about this same topic.  I was struck by Marie's use of the word
"fairness."  I'm not sure I agree; I would say "comparability."  I think
that's what "those people" who want -- or mandate -- we use standardized
assessments really want.  And, of course, I have faith (faith is belief
in things unseen!) that they want those comparisons to be fair.  A
second point: I'm not sure that in a perfect world every assessment
would be standardized.  Some assessing is transitory, highly personal,
unique to this learner and that instructor; how would that be
standardized?  Isn't it, by its nature, unstandardizable?

Back to the point Marie is making.  I agree that some of the
dissatisfaction I have read in the discussion seems to me to stem from
wanting or expecting the assessment to do or be things that it's not
supposed to do or be.  Not all assessment initiates from the learner or
the learning situation.  Particularly with standardized assessment, the
assessment is usually initiated from funders or policy agencies, and it
reflects what they want to know, and what they value.  They are, as it
were, the unseen partner in the room and in the learning situation.  It
may be that the assessment does not align completely, or it isn't
encompassed completely, by the learning that is agreed to between every
instructor and his student (or, would be happening in the absence of
such an assessment).  However, that doesn't mean the assessment is
unqualified-ly inappropriate, inaccurate, intrusive, non-relevant, and
so on.  It is what it is for what it needs to accomplish.  And I think
that it is valid.  Nothing more, but nothing less either.  Just as a
policy person may look at portfolios, videotapes, or anecdotes and
reject them as inappropriate, non-relevant, and so on, for her purposes,
instructors often do the same for standardized and even program mandated
assessments that aren't generated from within a specific learning
situation.  The assessment identify a few items or limited skills of
value to that other person.  It becomes just a few items or skills to be
included in the more comprehensive learning situation.

And so I see the need for us, as professionals, to make changes to our
learning situations, and to recognize, value and imbed the information
which a standardized test provides.  We have to value it, or our
learners cannot.  Are we saying that the limited comprehension skills
assessed have no place in the learners' acquisition of higher reading
functions.  Yes, they are not the totality of reading, but no relevance?
It seems to me that we have to imbed it, just as we would any other
assessment that we do value -- decontextualized workbook, authentic,
portfolio, performance.  At the program level, one way this can be done
is to make the standardized pre-testing part (again, one part; not the
whole) of the diagnostic phase of the learner's experience -- using the
assessment to set goals, for targeted instruction, or to develop
specific items in an IEP.  Or, instructors may see how assessment areas
are related to a core curriculum, and prepare learners for those areas
and in the methods of the assessments to come.  In either case, or in
other ways, instructors and learners would need to be open to expanding
their learning to include ideas, areas, and items, that the unseen
partner in the learning process values.

Digression:  And let me say emphatically, that this is why my program
absolutely does not use or discuss GLE's with our learners.  I agree
that they are meaningless for adults.  If there is anyone out there who
absolutely disagrees, and finds the GLE's appropriate and practical, I
would like to hear the  argument and the examples.  Seriously.  Someone
mentioned the STAR project, which is based on the ARC study, and I have
heard that GLE's play a significant role in that program.  Maybe someone
in that project can write in, and offer some insight to the value of
GLE's in developing reading skills.

I would also say that I don't see this as only a standardized test issue
either.  Whenever a policy decision is made, whether at the federal,
state, program, or class level, then assessment will be initiated from
outside the learner-instructor interaction.  For example, at sites where
technology is available, RIRAL instructors are required to use that
technology as a method with their learners.  Learners do not, in
general, get to opt out on the basis of not seeing the relevance.  So,
learners prepare some written work using a word processor, because
familiarity with technology has been identified as an important,
life-long learning skill.  And so, we assess how well learners progress
in this area, even though it's not part of the GED test or the ESOL
beginning learners' stated goals.

Sorry for the length.

Howard Dooley

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