State studies alternative assessmentsWritten by Kyle Reynolds | | email@example.com
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is exploring alternative ways of assessing students instead of traditional standardized tests.
Karla Warren, ODE spokeswoman, said starting in September, education officials from Ohio school districts will meet to discuss alternative assessments, such as portfolios, senior projects, journals and performance-based evaluations to test at their schools. The project is being funded through a $1.3 million grant.
All state high school students must pass the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) prior to graduating, but Warren said educators are looking to see how they can best assess students in the future.
“We are looking into the next generation,” she said. “Who knows if the OGT will always be around.”
Warren said the reason for exploring alternative assessments is to reach the ultimate goal of having “all students to be prepared for college or the work force after graduation.”
All students in third through eighth grades are required to take the Ohio Achievement Test each year to measure what they’ve learned up to that point.
James Gault, assistant superintendent of secondary education for Toledo Public Schools, said he doesn’t think assessing students based on one standardized test is fair and would like to see the tests be part of a portfolio assessment that would also include class assignments, projects and pre-tests and post-tests that gauge how a student’s work is progressing.
“Some students are just not good test takers” Gault said. “As it is now they have one day to summarize what they know and have learned. What if they woke up late that day and missed breakfast or something, and we determine their entire fate off of one day. I would hate it if I was assessed on my job performance over a whole year based on one day.”
Gault said his problem with the Ohio Achievement Tests aren’t the tests themselves, but that the “state is not able to see anything but the scores.”
Craig Mertler, BGSU professor of education assessment and research methodologies and author of “Interpreting Standardized Test Scores,” believes standardized tests are a good measure of what a student has learned, but other kinds of assessments should accompany it.
“It is one effective measure, but no decision should be made on students based on one assessment,” Mertler said. “They are as accurate as anything else, but nothing is a perfect measure. They should be used in addition to other measures.”
Some students don’t do well, even if they know the content, due to what Mertler calls “test anxiety.”
“You get a No. 2 pencil in their hand and everything is completely quiet, some students will stress themselves out even if they know the material,” Mertler said.
Alternative assessments, such as oral or visual presentations, can help play to the strengths of students who don’t fare as well on standardized tests, but they can be difficult to evaluate, Mertler said.
“There are some logistical problems especially with the sizes of Toledo’s high schools,” Mertler said. “It is very time- and labor-intensive, which means it takes away from time for class instruction within different content areas.”
One challenge with presentations is different evaluators weigh certain elements of the presentation differently, such as creativity or professionalism, he said.
“Each one has to be scored on an individual basis, and there is a lot more subjectivity in the evaluations,” Mertler said.
The benefit of these performance-based assessments are that they “allow students to show what they’ve learned instead of just telling you what they’ve learned,” Mertler said.
There is a notion when preparing students for achievement tests that they are “teaching to the test,” which Gault and Mertler do not believe is an accurate notion.
“The notion is that teachers are teaching to the exact content of the test, and that shouldn’t happen,” Mertler said. “The tests should mirror state content standards so the teachers should be teaching to the standards set by the state.”