Budget Cuts and Standardized Tests.

by Harry on March 18, 2011

Problems in Missouri, explained here (thanks Emily).

This is a gem:

“There’s nothing to keep our schools from continuing to teach to those standards and assess those standards,” Hoge said. “The fact that they’re not on the state assessment doesn’t preclude your teaching that. We hope that our teaching will always be at the highest level possible.”

and then:

In the Webster Groves School District, some teachers will be glad to spend less time on MAP testing this year because that will mean more instructional time in the classroom, district spokeswoman Cathy Vespereny said. But, Vespereny added, the teachers are not pleased that the writing prompts are being bounced from the tests, because such exercises allow students to exhibit higher-level thinking. “The feeling is that the writing portion is particularly valuable,” she said.

So the districts understand that incentives have effects, and the state, which has been designing the incentives for all these years, doesn’t.



dictateursanguinaire 03.18.11 at 9:42 pm

As a Kansas Citian, I remember teachers being annoyed by all the time they spent teaching for MAP. It always seemed a bit silly to us too, although of course none of us understood the politics of this in 8th grade.


Zululander 03.19.11 at 12:08 am

The state of North Carolina has recently voted to eliminate the End of Course test (a standardized test for high school students) for four subjects next year. Such an elimination would save the state an estimated $2.5-$3 million dollars; which for a state suffering a shortfall of around $6 million dollars in education would be a big help to avoid other cuts. I teach US History and welcome this change, and most of my colleagues are in support of this legislation as well. I have heard rumors that there will be an End of Grade standardized test for 1st Grade in the works soon, but nothing I directly know of (which makes absolutely zero sense to me to give a 7 year old a standardized test).

Do the fine folks from Missouri and Kansas experience a similar issue with teachers disliking the standardized tests?



spyder 03.19.11 at 2:48 am

Among some of the proposals across the country (US) are various fee-based charges for GEDs, high school exit exams, homeschool equivalency testing, AP exams, and so forth. Districts, suffering from some severe cutbacks, may consider this route, even if the state doesn’t specifically authorize it. Charging for testing, along with SAT/ACTs, is yet another way of class discrimination.


subdoxastic 03.19.11 at 4:15 am

I believe that teachers should be included in discussions about the validity and reliability of tests– too often their experiences as the implementers of instructional practice is undervalued.

However, performance assessment (pick one of the many definitions) is notoriously difficult to measure well. While arguments about cognitive complexity frequently rely on the idea that constructed response questions provide greater depth(Martinez, 1997), issues regarding reliablility make an equally grim case for non-dichotomous items. Wainer and Thiessen (1993) demonstrate the difficulty of ascertaining the utility of any information provided by constructed response questions, “we found no evidence that the two components of the test measured very different aspects of proficiency.” (p. 104) And a “75 minute multiple choice test on the AP Chemistry Exam is as reliable as a 185 min contructed response test” (p.110) The technical difficulties of attempting to combine the two test items formats into a total score occupies the bulk of Wainer and Thissen’s paper.

I can understand wanting to get rid of the tests. Consequential validity issues loom over large scale testing. But I have to think that the information provided by large scale testing could be put to good use. As you go up the grades, teachers prefer creating and administering their own tests. These tests aren’t always free from validity issues, but it is almost guaranteed that they are less reliable than a good standardized test. Which makes sense, because if even trained psychometricians and statiticians can’t generate reliable constructed response questions, how can we expect a teacher to do it along with their additional duties?

Get rid of the test? Okay, but you try to sell that in the current accountability market. Keep the test but only one test item format? You’re going to want the multiple choice section, or you’re going to want an infrastructure in place to allow for marker training, and the money to pay people.


Barry 03.19.11 at 1:31 pm

“So the districts understand that incentives have effects, and the state, which has been designing the incentives for all these years, doesn’t.”

I don’t think that it’s that. It’s more likely a case of right-wing politicians acting like right-wing politicians.


Unlearner 03.19.11 at 4:40 pm

Sobdoxastic, I think the point is that tests start to measure something different when they are attached to incentives. They start to measure how much you taught to the test, and this creates a vicious cycle. I’ve seen it work this way in the New York City schools with the use of multiple choice tests. The pressure to do more test prep at the expense of other kinds of teaching is palpable even at schools that consider themselves opposed to test prep.

I’m not sure if the same thing would happen with written response tests. But perhaps if written response tests really do mirror some of the unclarity in the thing we are trying to measure — educatedness — then the distorting incentives would be reduced.


subdoxastic 03.19.11 at 8:27 pm

Hi unlearner:

Thanks for the response. Teaching to the test is a reasonable fear.

What I’d like to know is if the tests are attached to high stakes? Missouri runs tests through elementrary and secondary schools, and at present I’m uncertain which, if any, are tied to specific incentives for students and/or teachers. I’m under the impression that the tests removed do not constitute those mandated under federal legislation. Of course, this debate can only arise if two sides can’t reasonably agree about what constitutes a valid use of a test (Messick,1988).

According to the Missouri Assessment Program literature, a heavy emphasis is placed on performance assessment in End-of Course assessments (EOCs) with a rigorously screened set of criteria using teacher and content specialist input using a bookmark system to devise cut-scores. I plan to spend some time in the next few weeks looking into the technical report (starting with Appendix D) and make a start at examining some of the guts of the program.

I guess my problem is that article seems to have teachers decrying large scale testing one instant and then arguing for inefficient, and costly forms of large scale testing the next


superdestroyer 03.20.11 at 2:30 pm

Most of the general public understands that if students are never tested in a manner that is not controlled by the local teachers and school system that the local school system will “cook the books” and give good grades to lousy students.

Most state-wide exams are simplistic easy and good students have no problem not only passing them but scoring very high.

The real question for schools is how can those schools pass students who have been prep for an entire year for an easy test when the student still fail the test.


Fate 03.20.11 at 3:42 pm

I recently had a conversation with a couple teachers from a gifted “summer school” program. They noted that for their subject (english + writing), the standardized tests created an obvious incoming ‘wave’ of students with substantially lower ability. I saw the same in teaching my subject, as students would have several days of ‘test prep’, where subject of the day was ‘test prep’.

The “general public” isn’t qualified to look at the real world effects of these standardized tests, which are extremely damaging to schools and school systems. The truth is that “teaching to the test” has very real and immediate advantages and it comes at the cost of other programs – music, art, sciences, writing. There is no mystery to which schools are bad or under performing, and further, very little that teachers or school administrator can do to combat that.

Arm-chair quarterback opinions resulting in these standardized tests are part of the reason why I left for industry instead of becoming a full time teacher.


superdestroyer 03.20.11 at 10:24 pm


Testing has increased because the professional educators for 40 years covered up their inability to teach and the social promotion of non-performing students.

Most members of the general public have children, grandchildren, children of friends, or children of relatives who attend schools. Those members of the genral public know how easy the standardized test are. They are so easy that no test prep should be needed.

As an example, California expects High schools graduates to be able to do 7th grade math. yet, over 10% of the seniors in California cannot pass the math test after multiple attempts. It is more than test prep distraction that have caused the schools to fail. Maybe it is the anti-learning environment that too many teachers encourage and the anti-intellectual stance of professional educators.

That schools need to spend five minutes on test prep is a demonstration that the schools are not doing their job. How about not passing students who cannot do the work and worrying about the students who want to learn instead of using of of a schools resources on the students who do not want to learn.


chris 03.21.11 at 1:47 pm

the professional educators for 40 years covered up their inability to teach

It’s not so much inability to teach as the limitations of teaching. The vast majority of variation in educational outcomes is not explained by teaching. This is the fundamental mistake almost everyone makes in looking at the educational system — they overrate the importance of teachers. Now of course you can’t learn in a vacuum, but the *difference* between different teachers, in outcome terms, is just not that large.

Maybe it is the anti-learning environment that too many teachers encourage and the anti-intellectual stance of professional educators.

Nope. It’s socioeconomic factors. The anti-intellectual stance of *American culture* (and I really have no idea why you would pin this on professional educators, since they are the targets of it as much as anyone) may have something to do with it, but the simple fact is that America has more poor than any other nation of comparable per capita GDP (and even many that are noticeably below us), and we do less to help them. The results of this on the educational outcome of children of poor parents are inevitable, and scapegoating teachers or reforming the educational system will do nothing to help it.

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