Education Corner 7 - More about Evidence

Readers, we think you have likely already guessed that recent columns have tried to introduce the idea of assessing or gathering evidence of student learning. This is the concern to all of us—what are the children learning in school and how well are they learning it. Further, as a community, what evidence or proof do we need from the schools our children attend? How do we know just exactly what our children are learning? Do student grades tell us? Or do test scores tell us? In fact talking with you about evidence that our Pohnpeian (and FSM) students are learning will be the focus for EC for months to come. But please remember if we are not happy with the grades or test scores it is just an opportunity for improvement. This is our Education Corner theme. Assessment should always be used for improvement
Last EC we left you with many frustrated parents at a graduation wondering how their children made the "B" honor role but did not pass the entrance test with a score high enough to enter the high school. Recall the test was based upon the 8th grade curriculum standards and the test was to give some evidence as to the students learning at the end of elementary school. A little review here— standards are what the students are supposed to be achieving–reading and writing at an 8th grade level; doing math at an 8th grade level; and understanding their social studies and their sciences at an 8th grade level.
Naturally, the parents in the story had every right to ask the question-how can this happen? And it is very understandable why the parents were upset. Can you figure out what happened at this school? Some might say that the teachers were grading too easy. But what does 'too easy' mean? Others might say teachers were not teaching the material, the curriculum properly. Many go as far as saying the 8th grade teachers are just "bad" teachers or even the 7th and 8th grade teacher were "bad". But, whatever, we can speculate this for sure. If the test was based upon the FSM Curriculum Standards and Benchmarks for 8th grade, then certainly these benchmarks were not learned by 2/3rds of the 8th grade class. The students were not learning the 8th grade standards. Perhaps they were still learning 5th or 6th grade standards. Or perhaps they did not learn the 7th-grade standards before they went to 8th grade standards. Many different things could have gone wrong but one thing was obvious. The students did not learn the standards, and the B grades did not indicate "above average" on 8th grade standards. But what does this mean? In keeping with the EC theme— Assessment Is For Improvement—it means this school had better get about improving something. And while we told you the story was not absolutely true, let's just say a few things were altered to protect those involved so many years ago.
However, the story had a very happy ending. With a little help the school principal analyzed the test scores and found out the areas of the test that the 8th graders failed. The principal then informed the 7th and 8th grade teachers to address all of the weak or failed areas the next year as the #1 priority. The principal reassigned teachers to their strongest subject. The 6th grade teacher was the school's best math teacher. She now taught 6th, 7th and 8th grade math. All teachers were ordered to teach the standards and the principal made this his number one school priority for the next school year. With hard work and concentrating on the 8th grade standards and benchmarks, in the following year, more than 80% of the 8th grade passed the entrance test to the high school.
All these standardized tests our children are taking are almost what we call high stakes tests. We say this because reporting and then improving our standardized tests scores are tied to funding. Not getting funding makes these tests very important.
For reader education, high-stakes tests are not really set up for improvement. They are set up to screen or filter the test-takers. They are sometimes pass or fail and sometimes a score will rank the test-taker against the others taking the same test. For example, an employment test as for government jobs given to 1000 applicants may only consider the top 10 in rank order of scores. Certainly, the NSTT is high-stakes as passing means a teacher license or certification. A 'no pass' means no certification and therefore no teaching position. If you finish and wish to teach in Guam or the U. S., teachers may run into teacher tests called the Praxis. The NSTT is similar in nature to the Praxis. The College of Micronesia Entrance Test (COMET) is high-stakes. Pass and you are in college. A 'no pass' means you will not be a college student until you can pass the COMET. Passing a General Equivalency Development Test (GED) means you are judged to be the same as a high school graduate and can enter COM-FSM (if you pass the COMET). Another high-stakes test for many Micronesians is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). To be accepted into the U. S. military requires the high school diploma or a GED and passing the ASVAB in order to enter the U. S. armed forces. And, to be sure, these high stakes tests are in the English language. So English proficiency is the real basis for success in these win-lose situations.
And very finally and with the highest respect to our vernacular languages, English is the key. Get evidence that the students are reading, writing, listening and speaking at the standard level of their grade in English and we are well on the way to improvement in all the school subjects.