Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chapter 14 – Appropriate and Inappropriate Test-Preparation Practices

Educational Assessment - Review By Brenda Roof
Classroom Assessment – What Teachers Need to Know - By W. James Popham

Chapter 14 deals with appropriate and inappropriate test-preparation practices. This is a newly recognized concern as a result of public reporting on education and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. The pressure to increase test scores has lead to improper and unethical test preparation practices. There are some steps to ensure good testing practices and enhancing students learning.
Educational achievement tests are administered to help teachers make good inferences about students’ knowledge and/or skills in relation to curricular aims being addressed. The achievement test should sample the curricular aim being addressed to serve as an indication to mastery or non-mastery. The relationship of mastery of a curricular aim and a score on an achievement test should be the same. If they are the same, we are seeing good test preparation practice.
There are two guidelines that can be used to ensure appropriate test-preparation practices. The first guideline is the professional ethics guideline. Professional ethics says that no test-preparation practice should violate the ethical norms of the education profession. State imposed security procedures regarding high stakes tests should never be compromised. The breaching of proper test practices removes the confidence of the public and can result in the loss of teaching credentials. The second guideline is the educational defensibility guideline. Educational defensibility states no test-preparation should increase students test scores without simultaneously increasing students mastery of the curricular aim tested. This guideline emphasizes the importance of engaging in instructional practices that focus on the student and their best interest.
There are five common test-preparation practices. These practices generally occur in the classroom and sometimes special instruction needs to occur outside the regular class time. The first practice is previous-form preparation provides special instruction and practice based directly on the use of an actual previously used test. This form of practice actually violates educational defensibility, as test scores may be boosted without a rise in mastery of curricular aims. The second practice is current-form preparation. Current-form preparation provides special instruction and practice based directly on the students’ use of the form of the test currently being used. This practice violates both educational defensibility and ethical guidelines. Any access to a current form before its official release is a form of stealing or cheating. The third practice is generalized test-taking preparation. Generalized test-taking preparation provides special instruction covering test taking skills for dealing with a variety of achievement test formats. Students learn how to make calculated guesses and how to judiciously use test taking time. This form of test practice is an appropriate use of test-preparation skills. Students are able to cope with different test types and are apt to be less intimidated by various test items they may encounter. This skill also promotes a more accurate reflection of true knowledge and skill. The fourth test preparation skill is same-format preparation. Same-Format preparation provides regular classroom instruction dealing directly with content covered on the test using practice items in the format of the actual test. The items are a clone of the test and for many students they are indistinguishable from the actual test. While this practice may not be unethical it is not educationally defensible. If students only recognize or deal with the test format they are not prepared to show what they have learned. In this case test scores may rise but demonstration of curricular aim master may not. The fifth test preparation practice is varied-format preparation. Varied format preparation provides regular classroom instruction dealing with content covered on the test, but practice items represent a variety of test-item formats. This test practice also satisfies ethical and educationally defensible guide-lines. Content on the tests as well as content applied to the curricular aims is applied in a variety of formats. Both test scores and curricular aim mastery should be seen in this test preparation practice.
A popular expression used today is “teaching to the test”. The meaning of this statement can have a negative connotation. Negatively applied the teacher is directing instruction specifically to test items on the test itself. This of course is a form of bad instruction. A positive way to “teach to the test” would be to aim instruction toward curricular aims supported on the actual test. This would be a positive form of instruction. The author suggests not using the phrase “teaching to the test” to avoid any confusion on instructional practices. A suggested phrase by the author is, “Teaching to the curricular aim represented by the test”.
Raising students test scores on high stakes tests is a common theme throughout public education. If teachers and administrators are being pressured to do this they should only do so if they are provided curricular aims that are aligned with the assessment. Test items should be accompanied by descriptions of what the test items represent that is suitable for instructional planning. If curricular aim descriptions are not provided for test items then score boosting should not be expected.
This chapter provided appropriate and inappropriate test-preparation practices. Two guidelines were explained professional ethics and educational defensibility. There are also five test practices described and how the guidelines applied to these practices. Varied-format and generalized test-preparation were the two sound practices that enforced both guidelines. The phrase “teaching to the test” was described, both negatively and positively and a whole new phrase was suggested, “Teaching to the curricular aim”. The idea of high stakes test supplying curricular aims descriptions for solid instructional decisions to occur was also discussed.

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