Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Friday, December 18, 2009

Standardized Tests and Referendum Recovery

So, I've been a little quiet over the past week...after the months of pre-Referendum activities (including 20+ meetings with the community), I guess I was a little burned out. I’ve been focusing on holiday stuff. And my “real” job, too, (for a change, haha).

Anyway, you can expect my posts to be a little less frequent through the end of this month. I wish everyone a happy, healthy, restful and peaceful holiday season and happy new year!

I’ve been meaning to write about the District-Wide State Testing Report, which Assistant Superintendent Regina Botsford presented at the December 7 meeting. But I’ve been dragging my feet a little because I don’t like the excessive and narrow focus on standardized tests, which I sometimes see. And then the other day I heard an interview with a man who wrote an insider’s “tell-all” book on the standardized test business. Definitely got me feeling even more ambivalent on the topic.

I understand why people can get excited about test results. It’s human nature. We need to order things in the world, and we need to “place” ourselves somewhere in that order. (Bear with me on my amateur psycho-evaluation...this is just my opinion.) And of course we want to place ourselves as high as possible in the food chain. Standardized test scores come out and we immediately want to see how our students compare.

The good news is, overall our scores look good. At the elementary level, the percentage of our students who are “advanced proficient” was better than our DFG* average in every category -- Language Arts, Math and Science. At the high school, same thing. We beat our DFG average in all subjects. At the middle school, our students are basically equal to our DFG in most categories – and just below our DFG in some. It’s important to note that the gap between our scores and the DFG average is narrowing over the past few years, so that’s a good trend. When we discussed the results at the Board meeting on December 8, the general feeling was that middle school presents special challenges and even though our scores dip in grades 6-8, they “catch up” again in high school. That is one way to look at it, but I wonder why our scores dip more than the average scores in our DFG. At a future meeting, the District will present goals for every grade/school, including the middle schools, so I’ll have a chance to ask about that. Again, it does look like our middle school scores are improving relative to the average scores in our DFG, and that’s a good thing.

I've written about standardized test issues in the past. I think there's a place for them, but they need to be part of a complete assessment program. You can read a little more about summative vs. formative assessment here.

(*DFG = District Factor Group. It's the group of districts the state puts us in, based primarily on population density and community affluence. We are a "J" district and other districts in this group are Glen Rock, HoHoKus, Northern Highlands, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River, Woodcliff Lake, Millburn, West Windsor-Plainsboro, Rumson, Chatham, Mountain Lakes.)

Now about that book I mentioned. It’s called Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry, by Todd Farley. The author was really interesting on WNYC the other day. I’ve ordered the book and I’ll let you know what I find out. I can tell I’m not going to like it.

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