Parents Agree – Better Assessments, Less High-Stakes Testing

Educators aren’t alone in being fed up with narrow, punitive student accountability measures. Parents also want well-designed, timely assessments that monitor individual student performance and progress across a range of subjects and skills. That’s one of the key findings in a new study by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

NWEA, a non-profit educational services organization headquartered in Portland, set out to find how the views of parents – often ignored in the debate over the direction of public education – stacked up against those of teachers and administrators.

After conducting online surveys of more than 1,000 respondents, NWEA found that these stakeholders essentially want the same thing. Large majorities say that, although year-end tests might provide some sort of useful snapshot, they strongly prefer more timely formative assessments to track student progress and provide educators with the flexibility to adjust their instruction during the school year.

“The research reinforces the notion that no one assessment can provide the breadth and depth of information needed to help students succeed,” explained Matt Chapman, president and CEO of NWEA. “For every child we need multiple measures of performance.”

As the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) slowly moves on Capitol Hill, redefining how student progress is measured will be a key debate. The National Education Association believes it is time to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Law (the 2001 revision of ESEA), scrap the obsession with high-stakes testing and enter into a new phase of education accountability.

“Well-designed assessment systems do have a critical role in student success,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  “We should use assessments to help students evaluate their own strengths and needs, and help teachers improve their practice and provide extra help to the students who need it.”

“I use different types of assessments because all students are different,” explained Krista Vega, a middle school teacher in Maryland and NEA member who participated in the NWEA survey.  “I use quizzes, games, teacher-made tests, computerized tests, portfolios, and alternative assignments.”

“What I’m looking for is, first, are they mastering the skill I’m trying to teach, or did they not master the skill? I’m looking to see if there is an area of weakness. I’m looking to see if they have background knowledge sometimes. There’s just a whole range of things that I’m looking for,” Vega said.

Source: Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates

According to the survey, it is the types of formative assessments Vega identifies, such as quizzes, portfolios, homework and end-of-unit tests that provide timely data about individual student growth and achievement. Respondents cited these types of assessments as providing educators with the necessary information to pace the instruction and ensure students learn fundamental skills.

Parents are also worried about the narrowing of the curriculum. Large majorities believe it is important to measure students in math and English/language arts but also say it is important to measure performance in science, history, government and civics, and environmental literacy.

The students who are often hurt the most by a restricted curriculum are those who don’t have the opportunities, because of their socioeconomic background, to diversify their learning outside the classroom.

Beyond subject matter, parents and educators believe so-called “higher order” thinking skills such as creativity, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration – so critical in the modern economy and workplace – aren’t being properly measured by current assessment systems.

“It is really, really important,” Vega says “that we prepare students for when they enter the workforce to compete in the 21st century.”

See Also:

How Should Teachers Be Evaluated? Let’s Ask the Teachers

How Finland Reached the Top of the Educational Rankings

  • I am a parent and a teacher. How about just holding expectations to becoming a teacher really high, so that once teachers ARE teachers they are left to teach….I do not want any standardized testing for my children. perhaps a sampling of them every few years….but this move towards every year, every subject, every child is absolutely insane and costly. We can’t just continue to let ANYONE in to the profession through alternate education methods and then churn out ‘bad teachers’ through value added models for years on end……let’s be selective, trust the ones we have, trust them to asses in class, do a sampling every few years and stop all the nonesense. We are NOT preparing kids for anything….except future success in school…..not the world… are getting more stupid via these methods….

  • Kenia Ramirez

    I think standardize testing is a waste of time speaking as a student. We are being educated to take these tests but really what I think this nation needs is more programs for both the students and parents. Our parents are our first teachers in this life not our kindergarten teacher. If parents that received less than a high school diploma wants to help their children with homework they can’t because their level of education does not allow them to do so. However, if there is a program for parents to further their education not only to help the child but feel good about being able to accomplish what they couldn’t do when they were young, I believe is a huge success. 🙂

  • It seems we have gone to the ONE standardized test because we have fewer and fewer true Teachers which are truly well rounded. Many are too specalized or do NOT have education degrees. Which means that there are more and more who are ONLY teaching what is needed for “THE TEST”. This is leaving a true “gap” is student education!!

  • I think the key to good evaluations lies in the hierarchical relationship between the subject and the evaluator. Whatever instruments may be used, teachers benefit from evaluations that come directly from the principal who supervises their work. The principal benefits from evaluations that take place in his or her relationship with the superintendent. Children benefit from evaluations coming directly from their teachers. Standardized tools may help in those evaluations, but the use and interpretation of those tools much be in the hands of a competent leader. It is for that reason that I am against both the madness of our current teacher evaluation frenzy and against the madness of teachers having excessive authority in the home over homework assignments.

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  • Sarah Hoisington

    Why is the U.S. going backward?
    The current culture of standardized testing mania is killing teachers’ passion to teach. Teaching is an art –truly a gift with which one is born. Standardized testing, however, is removing the art form of teaching, replacing it with rote memorization and surface learning. In the standardized testing culture, teachers are replaceable widgets; all teachers must be on the same page and give the same assessments. This does not promote in-depth learning…nor does it make learning enjoyable for students.
    What about differentiating the curriculum and meeting the needs of the individuals in the classroom? What about teachers taking the time to get-to-know their students and their interests and warmly greeting them as they enter through the classroom door? What about in-depth discussions about the subject area and altering the lesson plan as connections are made by students in “aha” moments? Unfortunately, this is severely restricted or outright prohibited in the current test-crazed school culture.
    This is so terribly unfortunate as we know that students learn best when they feel like their teachers know and like them. I am so concerned for my children and my students. These are sad days for students in American public schools.

  • Kate wants to dump’em all in Nashville

    As long as there is a quest for money and power these officious legislators who know NOTHING about education other than the fact that they HATED that higher math or English teacher will continue to one-up each other with more and more ridiculous, data-driven nonsense.

    All of the comments on this page beg the question that if everyone is sick of the standardized testing, then why do they not do something about it like write their semi-literate legislator??? Why should multitudes of people be held hostage by a bunch of self-important idiots in Nashville with IQs equal to Campfield divided by Hurley????

  • Anne Washington

    Testing has made students feel like they are some laboratory guniea pigs!