Assess The Test

Friday, March 28, 2014 - by J.C. Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee

There has been a renewed focus on the role of testing across the United States. This has opened a new dialogue among stakeholders, as well as policymakers. It is clear that new policies are needed to reflect the changing landscape in education and maximize changes in technology. As assessments will also be changing, data protection is a must. The ancillary debate is “Should the state bear the expense of testing, or is it a local responsibility?”

The debate is not merely about the pending and still experimental PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessments. In fact, there will be probably 10 to 15 less expensive assessment options under consideration. Additionally, there are the assessments of the states that are not Common Core State Standard members, for a total of about 20 possible assessments designed to measure a common set of standards. Some of these options may become a necessity if a “Plan B” is needed in case of the chance that the PARCC exams become too costly or are proven to not be a right fit for Tennessee. 

The purpose of testing should be to determine if a student is making satisfactory progress from grade to grade in grades 3 through 12. Our belief is that a standardized test is inappropriate within the K-2 setting. The use of assessments should allow educators to better assist students who are behind their peers to ensure they receive the help they need immediately to get back on track. In addition, those students who meet or exceed expectations can be monitored to make certain that they continue to excel. In the 9-12 setting, end-of-course (EOC) exams may still be an option if they are not discontinued. How many tests are needed? How often should they be administered? What is their purpose? These questions need to be asked frequently by stakeholders and policymakers.

The attraction of emergent technology is that it will allow educators to effectively identify and address student needs, if there is timely feedback. This ongoing transformation will continue to impact student learning – and advance prescriptive teaching. Students will need to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge or skills in a range of contexts. Assessments should allow educators to gauge their students more efficiently, and provide them with concise and accurate data to permit more focused support to students on an individual basis. 

Most colleges and universities across the nation use the ACT, the SAT or both as part of their admissions procedure. The vast majority of state colleges and universities admit most of their applicants, and do not require minimum scores for admission that represent college readiness. A significant number of students require remediation. Is that a fault of the K-12 community or a failure by higher education? Perhaps greater dialogue and collaboration is needed. That is a discussion for another time.

The ACT test predicts a student’s prospect of earning credit in entry-level courses, but has not been aligned to states’ K-12 academic standards. This is also true of the SAT. The SAT is not designed to specifically predict college entry-level course success. However, it does provide predictors of overall college success, retention and completion. Both the ACT and SAT are in the process of fully developing their own suite of CCSS aligned assessments. 

Stakeholders and policymakers all want what is best for public education. However, the road ahead is fraught with complexity. If we are going to take the time and expense to create standards, it stands to reason we will measure to see if students have in fact learned them. The purpose of testing is to guide educators on how and what to teach students so that education goals are met within a community, state and nation. We must keep focused on achieving our educational goals as a state and a nation.


J.C. Bowman is the executive director for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tenn.


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