Recently I was working with a campus staff that is aggressively improving. Not because they have to; but because they want to. Which is significantly more impressive. They are getting ready to embrace the common assessment process next year and the question came up, “Why are common assessments better than individual teacher tests?”
A great question. Here is the answer. First, the primary purpose of an assessment or test is to provide accurate information to inform instructional decision making.
And individual teacher made and administered tests do NOT do this. (Note: Swallow your anger and arguments, you can’t win this debate.)
There are five reasons why this is the case.
- Teacher made assessments are based on what the teacher taught. Common assessments are based on what the teacher was supposed to teach. Which means that teacher made tests mask pacing issues. Why is this important? Not being on pace with the scope and sequence is as bad, if not worse, as poor delivery of instruction.
- The rigor of teacher developed test questions is generally lower than the rigor level required of the standard. Which means that students can get the test question correct yet not actually meet the curriculum standard. Essentially, a false positive that is going to cause a lot of pain sometime in the future (like when the state testing results are reported).
- Teacher made assessment questions are generally invalid. Note: A valid question perfectly separates those who know something from those who don’t know it. What make a valid question? The wrong answer choices. With a valid question, the wrong answer choices are equally enticing to the guesser as the right answer. Just so you know, writing valid distractors (wrong answers) is much more difficult and time consuming than writing rigorous questions.
- Teachers can’t help themselves, they review students prior to the test. Why is this bad? When teachers administer the test, they are really assessing the quality of the review. When what you actually want to assess is the quality of first time instruction.
- Finally, in their minds, teachers have an acceptable failure rate. If the test is producing more failures than expected, the fall back solution is the bonus question. The bonus question increases the passing rate… and destroys the validity of the test data.
Just one of the five things on the above list might be fixable. All of them, there’s no chance. So, the best thing you can do… Dump the teacher made tests.
Think. Work. Achieve.
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