Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SLO's and pretesting

As the year wraps up I am going to expound upon a personal pet peeve- doing half of the right thing. This year teachers across New York state, as well as other states, I presume, were on a SLO plan to incorporate student achievement data into their evaluation program. SLO stands for student learning objective. In non tested subjects, teachers had to pretest students at the beginning of the year and then compare that performance to an assessment at the end of the year. So far so good. Pretesting is an aspect of good teaching. Thereafter, however, the problem occurs.

For the most part, in the fall students were pretested, the information was put away and now as the end of the year approaches, they will be considered. My problem with this is twofold. First teachers told students not to worry about them. It actually behooves teachers to have students blow off the pretests. If students perform poorly on pretests, teachers can look better when then retest at the end of the year. Second, pretests were given that were not used instructionally. My children considered them a waste of time, and my son's personal goal for them was to make teachers laugh as they read (think Calvin and Hobbes). Only one of my daughter's teachers used the pretest in order to inform instruction. I fully believe in this. It is the goal of pretesting. If the pretest is used to only measure the teacher, I argue that it is not worth the students' time. You can use the pretest you were forced to give to measure professional performance AND identify weaknesses to focus on, areas of strength to allow compacting of the curriculum or extension with other activities. Furthermore, if a student did take the pretest seriously and demonstrated mastery of the course, something should be done to keep meeting the student's potential- grade advancement and independent study are just two of the possible options.

Now we are giving post tests. For students who aced the pretest, giving the post test provides exceedingly little information. We knew the kid had it in the beginning of the year. For students significantly below grade level, the post test may similarly provide little information. If a student performed four grade levels below where they should have at the beginning of the year, and moved to being only 2 1/2 grade levels behind at the end of the year, both the pretest and the post test are unlikely to be sensitive to those low levels even though significant progress was made. In better places, the tests will be analyzed, weaknesses in instruction will be identified, next years' teachers will be informed of the specific areas of concern and the individual teacher will work on beefing up skill and instruction in areas of concern. This kind of test analysis is difficult and needs to be taught and time needs to be found for completing it. Unfortunately many places will not spend the resources to do this. In many places the post tests will go directly to administration and not be closely examined by teachers. Imagine the irony: we ask students to do close reads but teachers do not do it.

Without meaningfully using pretests and post tests, we do our students a disservice. We take time away from instruction without generating any benefit to them individually or to the  system in general. It is not that I do not want pretesting and post testing. They are an important part of instruction. It is that I do not want them to be sprinkles that make it look good, but do not improve the quality of the taste of the cake.

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