Effective teachers utilize a variety of methods in assessment such as testing, portfolios, rubrics, written work -including daily homework assignments, presentations and other oral means. As education morphs to accommodate the needs of society, the methods of assessment also increase to demonstrate student achievement in relation to instructional effectiveness. A large contributor in assessing educational effectiveness is through questioning. “Effective teachers ask more questions than less-effective teachers. In one study, effective junior high school mathematics teachers were found to ask an average of 24 questions per class period, whereas their less effective counterparts asked an average of only 8.6 questions. Questions are important in keeping the students engaged and alert in the classroom and for checking understanding” (Armstrong, Henson, & Savage, 2009, p 158).
Standardized testing methods also use questions to gauge the impact teacher instruction has on students. Taylor and Walton (1999) concur that tests can do just this provided “that the information be used in conjunction with our professional judgement.” Yet despite this support there are many critics to this point of view. Popham states that standardized testing bears the risk of “measuring temperature with a tablespoon” (Taylor & Walton, 1999).
In another piece of work, Popham (2008) lists the difficulties in using standardized testing to govern instructional effectiveness. Standardized exams compile an inordinate amount of curricular objectives and aims from state and federal standards to create a sampling of these guidelines. In many cases, the exams completely eliminate teacher emphasized content. Despite attempting to monitor crucial student knowledge, the goal is often missed as blanket exams have the inability to cater to individual knowledge. Lastly, Popham demonstrates many questions linked into students’ socioeconomical status. He uses the example of the word ‘field’ within one exam question. For learners whose parents have careers, generally within a higher socioeconomical status, the connotation of the noun is easily recognized in comparison to their counterparts of lower socioeconomical statuses whose backgrounds may not have introduced them to the application of the term within this context (p 338).
Yvonne Siu-Runyan (2009) concords with James Popham’s analysis of standardized testing. “Since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), high-stakes testing continues to be a great distraction to education as well as a great moneymaker for the test publishers. Huge resources in time, energy, and money are spent prepping students for tests, taking the tests, scoring the tests, and reporting the results of tests. Schools have been shut down, teachers have left the field, and funding has been diverted as these test data are being used for tracking, promoting, retaining, and graduating students.”
The initial foundations of the No Child Left Behind Act “enacted by the Congress of the United States of America” was “the hope of closing the achievement gap, and providing disenfranchised groups the opportunity for successful educational attainment” (Mayers, 2006). Each school is required to prove this through reaching their yearly benchmarks for their annual yearly progress (AYP) “toward English proficiency and state educational standards” (Mayers, 2006).
Colorado’s Department of Education (2010) reports “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires that each state develop and implement an accountability system that is effective in helping to ensure that every school district and every school makes Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as defined by the federal legislation and approved by the United States Department of Education (USDE).” This is accomplished through the administration of “the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) to measure the progress students are making in achieving proficiency in Colorado’s Content Standards. The CSAP assesses third through tenth grade students in reading, writing and mathematics. Severely disabled students (about 1% of the student population) may be eligible to take the CSAP Alternate (CSAPA), which assess students in modified state content standards” (Colorado Department of Education, 2010).
However, Popham (2008) who established a research group which specialized in the development of standardized tests admonishes instructors to be cautious in using these measurement tools. “For standards-based tests to be instructionally sensitive, those tests must possess three attributes. First, the skills and/or bodies of knowledge being assessed must be sufficiently few so teachers do not become overwhelmed by too many assessment targets. Second, the skills and/or bodies of knowledge being assessed must be sufficiently well-described … Finally, the test results must permit teachers to identify whether each assess skill and/or body of knowledge has been mastered by an individual student. If a standards-based test does not possess all three of these attributes, that test won’t be instructional sensitive” (p 341).
The best way to judge effective instructional methods is through personal interactions within the confines of the classroom. Mayers (2006) shares “In my over forty years of teaching experiences, the best indicator (and I have tried many) of students’ educational proficiency involves authentic evidence collected over time from everyday learning experiences and work products, coupled with students’ self- examinations regarding their learning and the evaluations of teachers and parent(s)/ guardian(s). Together, the students, the teachers, and the parents/guardians provide a multidimensional appraisal of student learning, which no single NCLB high-stakes tests can begin to provide.”
Armstrong, D.G., Henson, K.T. & Savage, T.V. (2009) Teaching Today An Introduction to Education (8th Edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Person Education.
Colorado Department of Education. (downloaded 2010 March 5). No Child Left Behind State Report Card 2002 -2003. [Online]. Available: http://www.cde.state.co.us/FedPrograms/Reports/download/NCLBRptCrd/NCLBRprtCrdsFull0203.pdf
Mayers, C. (2006). Public Law 107-110 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Support or Threat to Education as a Fundamental Right? Education, 126(3), 449-462.
Popham, J. (2008). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know. (5th ed.). San Francisco: Allyn and Bacon.
Siu-Runyan, Y. (2009). Taking Testing’s Temperature. Urbana, 86(5), 393-395.
Taylor, K., & Walton, S. (1999). Reflecting on Test Scores. Instructor, 111(6), 16.
By Tracy Atkinson
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.