An Insider’s View on Testing

Filed in Uncategorized by on December 2, 2013 0 Comments

Mary Ollie has been in education long enough to know a bad thing when she sees it.

She started teaching in Cascade as a Science teacher for grades seven through twelve in 1984.  She has since spent time at Vallivue, Caldwell and Idaho Digital Learning Academy. Now she teaches at Treasure Valley Community College.  Mary has been recognized several times for her outstanding work in the classroom.  As I visit with her I wish my children could have her as their teacher.

For all of her experience, one of the more interesting things she’s taken part in is the writing of the ISAT.  This gives her a very unique insight into the high-stakes tests attached to Common Core.

 An Insider’s View on Testing

By Mary Ollie

As an educator, I have always been supportive of standards.  The practice of communicating what children should know and be able to do, to my students and to parents simply makes sense.  It continues to guide my teaching and testing practices.

However what does not make sense are high stakes tests developed around standards.  I first began having doubts when I worked on the Science ISAT as an item writer.  What I learned from that experience, applies to the Common Core tests.

Generally there are two reasons for giving tests.  One purpose is diagnostic.  Diagnosing learning disabilities is a familiar use.  The old Iowa Basics are an example of a diagnostic test given to a wide population.   However the most important use of assessment is to inform instruction.  Assessments given in the classroom serve this purpose.  This is similar to getting feedback from a coach.  It is targeted and it is immediate. Additional opportunities are then provided to practice and perfect skills.  This is how teaching and learning are supposed to work.

That didn’t happen.  Instead, standards were tied to high stakes tests.  A test given once or twice a year was promoted as a means of ranking and sorting students and their teachers.

Why does this not make sense?  It is simply not good educational practice.  One of the best principals I have ever worked with said, “A test is a snapshot in time.”  To really know how learning is progressing, we need more than a snapshot and we need more than one measure.  A one-size-fits-all test, delivered in one format, cannot adequately measure learning.  That is why classroom teachers use a variety of assessments ranging from lab practicals to essays, to projects, to demonstrations.

I sat around that table many times working and reworking a potential ISAT question.  My colleagues and I reworded.  We discussed context.  We argued over reliability and validity.  We knew kids would get one, maybe two shots.  The idea that a child would be labeled and his teacher judged by this measure was deeply troubling.  We persisted because we were teachers.  We’re the “good soldiers” to a fault.

After one particularly difficult day discussing how to sort students from basic to advanced based on their response to a question, the conversation turned to questioning the purpose.  How could we possibly label a child based on a couple of questions given on a particular day?  No one responded.  After a long moment of silence, one long time teacher said, “If the public knew what we were doing.  They would be forming a lynch mob.”


These were Idaho teachers writing assessments for Idaho students.  Do you think it will be any better when the tests are written by individuals who have little to nothing to do with Idaho or our children.  In the words of SBAC Director Joe Wilhoft:  “In the end, (all these kids) are just numbers to us”

Please, strongly consider opting you children out of these tests.  They are so much more than numbers.

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