Education Corner 18 - High Stakes Testing

High-stakes in poker or any other card game means the player is in the game and willing to bet a lot of money to win even bigger money. With a high stakes gambling game, a player can also lose a lot of money. Therefore, a high-stakes test is a test that means you can win big or lose big. High-stakes tests are not really set up for improvement. The EC has said in many columns that results from testing, assessing and evaluating should be used whenever possible for improvement. Readers are familiar with tests mentioned below and will recognize them as types of tests on which we all place such great emphasis. On many tests as these there is often no second chance.
Moreover, such tests 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 100 applicants may only consider the top 10 in rank order of scores. Certainly, the National Standard Teacher Test (NSTT) is high-stakes as passing means an FSM teacher license or certification. A ‘no pass’ means no certification and therefore no teaching position. If our FSM teachers wish to teach in Guam or the U. S., they 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.

Measuring Instruments
Any device that measures learning we call an “instrument.” A teacher’s quiz or a test is called an instrument. A portfolio of work—if used to measure learning—is called an instrument. A book report may be called an instrument if the teacher is checking to see that the student read and understood the book. A Standardized Test, as the National Standards Test for Teachers (NSTT), is an instrument. It is supposed to measure your abilities and likelihood that you will be a good teacher. It is supposed to measure what you have learned in your teacher training courses—the teacher training curriculum.
Moreover, teachers are concerned with the terms formative assessment and summative assessment and look at measuring instruments in these terms. Formative assessment is part of the teaching process (and how teachers teach) because it is used at a particular point in time and helps students and teachers adjust during the learning process. This is particularly important when students are learning skills and concepts for the first time. You may look at formative assessment as something good teachers do all of the time for improvement purposes. These sorts of assessments are on-going and may not even be part of a final grade. In fact, much formative assessment may be for practice and not even part of a final grade. Key to formative assessment is student involvement. Descriptive feedback as students move along through the curriculum is an excellent teaching strategy. Descriptive feedback is not a letter grade or “Good Job” or a smiling face. Descriptive feedback provides the student with and understanding of what they are doing well and then gives specific input on how to reach the next step in the learning process.
On the other hand, summative assessments are those tests given at a point in time to see what the student knows and does not know. They are used to measure learning in the curriculum standards after a period of time. Examples of these are the FSM Standards Tests, end of unit or chapter tests, end of semester exams, and any tests where scores are used to summarize student grades. And while they are not on-going as are the formative assessment, they may still be used for improvement. This is why teachers want results of standardized tests as soon as possible and become upset when such test scores are not returned in a timely manner or not at all.
Finally, high stakes test are part of education and part of life. For our students and for the present ESL skills and math skills are tested. These are skills that can be improved and should be. A student can move from no-pass to pass and in one or two year’s time. Much progress can be made when principals assure that teachers are designing and presenting all lessons with the practice of reading, writing, listening and speaking English consistently throughout the day.

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