One of the most troublesome challenges of classroom instruction is the classroom test. Some teachers create their own tests and others use “book tests.” But the concern among principals—and complaints among parents and students—remains: Are we testing what we’re teaching, and are we using valid tests?
Classroom Tests Compared to Other Tests
Classroom Tests. But the purpose of the classroom test—usually at the completion of a Unit or chapter—is to measure student mastery of specific standards for just that Unit. Actually, it is this level of test for which the classroom teacher is most responsible. And it should be the most helpful. The results are quickly obtained, they are specific to what has just been taught, and they are diagnostic as to individual student needs. But classroom tests should not be about “points earned” toward a passing grade. They must reflect “standards mastered” toward a composite picture of learning.
But classroom tests are only one side of the assessment coin. The other side is the array of commercial tests that are external to the classroom. A few of these are listed below:
- High Stakes Tests. The purpose for high-stakes tests is to measure the levels of academic performance on state-level content standards. The scores compare students to their age-mates within a district, a state, or even the country. For example, there is the AIR Test (from the American Institutes for Research); the PARCC Test (from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and various State Proficiency Tests. The states actually use these tests to rate districts in terms of the number of students who are proficient. Additionally, these test scores reflect each student’s “AYP” (or average yearly progress) to determine the direction of his or her individual growth.
- Commercial Diagnostic Tests. These tests identify individual student strengths and weaknesses with a set of specific academic skills. The scores inform teachers where and how to intervene with each student to improve proficiency. For example, there is the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test, the Key Math test, and DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills).
- Benchmark Tests. Many districts also use semester or quarterly Benchmark tests. These tests determine student mastery of standards taught in a particular quarter. Collectively, they represent a year’s worth of mastery.
- Standardized Achievement Tests. A major spoke in the commercial test wheel is the classic Achievement Test. These tests determine student mastery of a select array of skills in comparison to other students their age around the state or the country. Samples of these are the ACT, the SAT, the Terra Nova, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.