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NIFL-ASSESSMENT 2005: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1197] RE: high-stakes te

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From: Marie Cora (
Date: Tue Aug 02 2005 - 13:53:59 EDT

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Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1197] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal
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Hi Howard and everyone,

Howard, thank you for your thoughtful post.

I would really like to hear from you all out there on your thoughts,
suggestions, comments on Howard's post below.  It must get you thinking
- share your thoughts with us.

I just want to clarify a couple of things:

Howard, you said:
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.  

The purpose of a standardized test is in fact to provide a level playing
field - to try and be fair to all who take the test (sorry:  broken
record!).  Fairness and comparability are two completely different
things:  one is about the purpose (to try and be fair); the other is
about what the test is being used for (to compare students or scores or
programs or whatever).  These are fundamentally different notions,
Howard, and I believe you are mixing them up.  It may be true that
"those people want/mandate we use standardized tests for reasons of
comparability" - but that is completely different from the fact that a
test was developed by psychometric methodology to try and capture a body
of knowledge from a bunch of people without bias toward any one of those
people.  (I'm not saying standardized tests are perfect in their
fairness regard either:  I'm just trying to impress that this is the
point of the standardization process, and really only that.  Try to
separate that out in your mind.)

And if you do not administer a test exactly as it is prescribed to
administer (which is an **extremely** important part of testing), then
you have removed the fairness aspect (the standardization) and hence,
any results will not be usable - you will NOT be able to compare
students, or scores, or PROGRESS within a student accurately or with any
confidence whatsoever.  Throw out the standardized administration
process and throw out any comparing as well.  

Also, you said:  
"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?"

Perhaps.  Perhaps some of that is actually a monitoring of who that
person is, what his needs and goals are, how he interacts with certain
materials or people, what challenges and successes you as the teacher
identify with him as you work with him over time.  All extremely
important stuff to log and keep track of because it does build a more
complete picture of that person.  But couldn't you 'standardize' some of
the pieces surrounding some of these activities?  For example, perhaps
the materials or activities used are developed/selected from a set of
standards based on your curriculum (or the students' goals); and most
important, I would think that you would want to make sure that when
interacting with each student, your processes for working on tasks or
materials is pretty much the same as for each other student.  Not EQUAL,
I don't mean equal.  A simplistic example: if you want to check on a
person's ability to write a note to a child's teacher, do you let one
person write that note at home (where they could get help) but another
must do it in the confines of the classroom?  That's not fair.  

I recently saw a very long list of activities that ESOL students in a
high school had to do in order to 'graduate' out of that class (there
were like 30 choices).  It was a required final project.  There were no
guidelines, timeframes, or performance standards.  The list included:

Become an ROTC member
Start a class newsletter
Write a letter to a friend in English
Talk to three strangers on the street and report your experience (didn't
say if that report was to be oral or written)

Would you say that any of these activities and/or their results could be
compared in any meaningful way?  Of course not - but the fundamental
problem with this final project rests with the fact that none of this is
fair to begin with.  The teacher may have tried hard to encompass a wide
variety so that all her students had something that they were interested
in/could relate to, but because she was using the activity for a high
stakes purpose, it makes whatever results very unfair.

Ok, I've gone on plenty.  Somebody else talk now.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Howard Dooley
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 9:54 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1192] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal

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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