Assessment: Part 2
Do Students at MSS Take Standardized Tests?
Yes, they definitely do. Each year, in grades 4-8, we administer the Terra Nova Complete Battery and Plus Assessments - standardized tests that are aligned with NAEP standards, as well as state standards. After four days of testing in late February, we ship our answer sheets to California for scoring, and by June or July, CTB/McGrawHill provides individual reports that we pass on to parents. As we share student reports with parents, we also give annual reports to agencies and partners who examine our overall performance and serve as outside judges of our work. In recent years, instructors from Stevens Institute have also begun to examine our scores in science and math, and will soon proctor assessments of science and 21st century skills. In this way they also serve as an outside agency that is approving and, in this case, even ensuring strong performance for all children through limited and appropriate testing.
Under the watch of many, Mustard Seed School students have for decades consistently performed admirably on these tests. Though individual tests vary, our class means fall at or above the 80th percentiles in every grade every year in language arts, mathematics, and other tested areas. In addition, when our 8th grade students begin the high school application process and take similar tests for admission, they also score well, achieving acceptance in multiple high schools of choice. Do our students do well on these tests? Yes, they do.
However, we should all be both respectful and skeptical of this type of assessment. Standardized tests do tell us something important. They give us all a sense of how each child does on this sort of exercise. With the tingle of a formal testing situation, such tests focus attention on learning in a new way. They assess students according to what some national consultants believe is important, and they provide a comparison between our school and schools nationwide. They also provide information that helps us to continually evaluate our own program and these tests reveal things about individual students. Have we taught those aspects of a subject that were presented on the test and, if so, does this student really have the material mastered? Can a student connect what she already knows to material that is presented on a formal test? Is he persistent under pressure? Is she independently attentive and focused for sustained periods of time? Standardized tests often help answer these kinds of questions.
At the same time, however, all standardized tests are limited, for they never consider other academically important matters: Does a child think deeply? Does he demonstrate grit when pursuing new problems? Can she think well on her feet, articulating things thoroughly and clearly? Is he or she thoughtful as a matter of habit, bringing understandings from one subject to illuminate others? Standardized tests consistently leave these questions unanswered. Some students have high scores on Terra Nova tests, yet they struggle in other very important academic areas. Still others score poorly on these tests, and yet demonstrate the most desired habits of learning in other circumstances. Standardized tests, then, tell us something important about a child, but never all that is important.
What then do we want to see when it comes to proper assessment? The answer is that no one assessment is appropriate. Multiple types of assessments are required in order to determine what children really know. More on that here.
by Kathleen K. Hanson
Director of Grades 1-8