Monday, September 21, 2015

Zero miles to empty

Zero miles to empty!

That's what my car said. But I kept on driving.

With a message like that one would think that my car stopped immediately - out of gas! Surprisingly, I traveled 23 more miles before I pulled into a gas station to fill up my tank.

Data - even seemingly unambiguous, hard data - has wiggle room. There is always a difference between what is "observed" and what is "true."

In my car there is a difference between what I observed - zero miles to empty - and what was true - I was able to go at least 23 miles more.

The same principle holds true in standardized assessment. The score a child receives on a standardized test is an "observed" score. It is not the "true" score. Test theory holds that one can never know the true score. What we can do is try and create assessments that can get us close to a true score.

But in the end we have to be content with the understanding that any assessment gives us an observed score that might be higher or lower than a person's true ability.

That is why I am so dismayed that the Michigan legislature is considering House Bill (HB) 4822 which would require mandatory retention in 3rd grade for students who do not score at the 3rd grade level on the Michigan state assessment. Specifically it states the following:

If a pupil enrolled in grade 3 in a school district or public school academy is rated one full grade level or more behind in reading, as determined by the department based on the reading portion of the grade 3 state English language arts assessment the Board of the school district of Board of Directors of the public school academy in which the pupil is enrolled shall ensure that the pupil is not enrolled in grade 4 until . . .

This sounds good in theory. We should not promote students until they demonstrate that they have learned. But no assessment gives us a "true" score. Assessments give us an "observed" score. The observed score gives us one indication of a student's ability. But it certainly and clearly does not give us a completely accurate indication of a student's ability.

We asked parents in our district if mandatory retention was a good idea. These parents are not testing experts. They probably could not win a debate that was discussing the merits of testing theory. But they were overwhelmingly dubious of a policy that relied on mandatory retention.

Teachers and principals, those who work with students each and every day, know and understand that students develop differently. Artificially imposing a mandatory score to move on from 3rd grade is bad policy.

1 comment:

  1. Great analogy and assessment (pun intended) of the 3rd grade reading issue.