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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: standardized tests

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April 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model

Rachel Eells was one of several Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

Rachel Eells was one of the Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the wake of last year’s testing protest in Seattle, teachers at Garfield High, who led that revolt, received an invitation to visit teachers from 28 New York high schools where students don’t take most of their state’s high-stakes, standardized tests.

The schools, part of the New York  Performance Standards Consortium, instead give performance assessments —  in-depth assignments such as writing a paper comparing the protagonists’ deaths in three novels, or, in math, finding the parabolic path of a comet.

Consortium teachers make sure they grade such projects in the same way, sometimes sharing rubrics and scoring projects together. They’ve persuaded the state of New York to let them judge students’ skills that way, rather than with the usual New York Regents exams.

Two Garfield teachers visited the consortium in October, and two others went in February. They returned eager to try some of those ideas here, said Garfield teacher Rachel Eells.

The four teachers, plus a few others, met all this school year, looking closely at how they each assess their students’ progress, and helping each other improve their instructions to students, and their grading criteria.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Garfield High, MAP, Measures of Academic Progress

April 16, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Quiz: Try out new SAT questions

The College Board has released a series of sample questions for the new SAT, set to roll out in 2016.

Among other changes, the new SAT will do away with obscure vocabulary words, and the essay requirement will become optional. Wrong answers will no longer be penalized.

Curious how the new test stacks up against your recollection of the SAT? Try out a few sample questions in our quiz:

Sample questions from the new SAT

On Wednesday, the College Board released sample questions for the redesigned SAT, set to roll out in 2016. Try your hand at some of the questions by taking our quiz.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: SAT, standardized tests

April 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Cheating on standardized tests? State to keep closer watch

When Washington state switches to the new, Common Core tests in spring 2015, it will, for the first time, do the kind of post-test analyses that many experts recommend to detect any cheating, like the problems that have cropped up in Georgia and a number of other states.

On Wednesday, the Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Department of Education joined those urging all states to do such analyses, saying neglecting them would be a “missed opportunity to detect and prevent cheating.”

That recommendation was part of an audit of test security in five states:  Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. Here’s a report from Politico, and the full audit can be found here.

While Washington was not one of the states studied, it has been one of a declining number that don’t routinely do any post-test forensic analysis, such as looking for suspicious erasure patterns on answer sheets.

But that’s about to change, a spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said Wednesday.  When Washington starts using the new Common Core tests, he said, the state will also do forensic analyses that could detect potential problems at the state, district and school levels.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: cheating, common core, standardized tests

March 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Anxious about the SAT? More colleges say ‘don’t worry about it’

Almost anyone who has applied to college can trot out a horror story about the much-dreaded Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known as the SAT. The four-hour, fill-in-the-bubble test of math and reading skills has spawned innumerable opinion pieces, diatribes and nightmares.

There’s even a book, The Perfect Score Project, by Debbie Stier, a single mom and public relations professional who took the exam seven times (surely an exercise in masochism), trying to achieve a perfect 2400. Stier’s book is filled with tips for improving student scores, most of which boil down to one unsurprising adage: Study more.

Yet anyone who has flipped through an SAT-prep booklet knows there are easy strategies for gaming the test — techniques that can dramatically improve one’s score, as described here, by Education Lab opinion columnist Dennis McDuffie, a high school senior in Richland, Wash.

Likewise, educators across the country insist that the SAT is a poor measure of student aptitude or likely college success — a backlash that gained more credence after a recent SAT-overhaul by the College Board, which is trying to better align it with classroom curricula.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: higher ed, SAT, standardized tests

February 25, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Guest: Endless testing fails to measure true strengths of special-needs students

Jim Strickland

Jim Strickland

Imagine that we live in a society where running a mile is a highly valued skill. Young people are trained from an early age to increase their distance, speed and stamina until they are finally tested to see if they have achieved a given standard. Those who are successful receive a diploma that serves as a rite of passage and opens doors to future opportunities. Those who fail can keep trying or move on with life as best they can.

Now imagine someone has a disability that makes it hard for them to run or even walk. We still value being able to run a mile, so we make special accommodations, such as letting them use a crutch or extending the time allowed. And if they can’t do that, perhaps we have a caregiver push them around the track in a wheelchair. Remember, the important thing is for them to make it around the track four times.

Well, you can see this could get pretty silly after awhile. We could have students in comas being pushed around the track on gurneys, meeting the run-a-mile standard, and getting their diplomas. But would this really mean anything for these young people? Would their diploma be a legitimate rite of passage or a useful indication of their skills?

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Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: guest opinion, special education, standardized tests

January 23, 2014 at 11:42 AM

Guests: New GED test fails to measure skills that matter most

America’s largest high school is not a building but a test. The General Educational Development test is a seven-hour exam that allows high school dropouts to show they are equivalent to high school graduates. GED certificates account for 12 percent of high school diplomas issued in the U.S. Can a test replace four years of high school?

James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries and Tim Kautz

James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries and Tim Kautz

In a 2011 study, the GED Testing Service found that within six years of earning a GED, about 40 percent of GED recipients enroll in college — but most drop out within a year. Only about 1 percent earns a bachelor’s degree.

So this year they are launching a new, more difficult test, partly because of the difference between GED recipients and high school graduates when it comes to outcomes that matter. By looking beyond other test scores and evaluating the GED program using outcomes like educational attainment, the GED Testing Service has made a major stride. But will the new test be a better predictor of these outcomes?

Based on our work in a new book, “The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life,” we argue that it will not. The test is being changed under the notion that it measures the right skills but in the wrong quantities — in other words, that passing the old GED did not require enough scholastic ability.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: dropouts, ged, standardized tests

December 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Curious about the much discussed PISA exam? Try the test for yourself

Sample problem from PISA website

Sample question from PISA website

In case you missed it, Tuesday was PISA Day.

With a lot of fanfare, officials released the 2012 scores for perhaps the most closely watched international test, the Programme for International Student Assessment  — PISA for short.

For the U.S., the news was that our scores didn’t change much from 2009, the last time the test was given, though we dropped some in the rankings.

Whether that’s a clarion call for change depends on your point of view. Opinions varied, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the reform organization Achieve lamenting the results, while others found them worthless or at least worth a more nuanced look. See author and testing critic Diane Ravitch, and these folks in Education Week and Slate.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: PISA, standardized tests