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Alternatives to Student Testing

January 15, 2010

Chad Adleman and the folks at Education Sector have recently released a report highlighting the deficiencies of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) to measure student achievement. AYP is the (in)famous metric employed through No Child Left Behind to see if schools are improving on standardized tests. He concludes AYP is a seldom indicator of other long-term successes, like college continuation and college GPA.

This is at the same time when the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top programs are drawing heat in Iowa (and elsewhere) for tying student test scores with teacher evaluations. Now, I think standardized tests are maligned more than they should. It’s not perfect, but they do work. But it’s certainly not a perfect indicator–psychometricians would probably agree–for every formative measure of success.

So why the obsession with standardized tests? For one, it’s very quantitative and almost magical to most. But mostly I suspect because it’s quick. It’s certainly the most immediate feedback for student success when compared to others. Consider the waiting time to see if high schools have meaningful impacts and the time it would take:

Immediate

  • 11th grade standardized tests (2 years)
  • Graduation [rate] (4 years)

Intermediate

  • College continuation (6-7 years)
  • Early college GPA (7-8 years)
  • One-year college retention (7-8 years)

Long-term

  • College graduation (12-13 years)
  • Rate of return to schooling (18-27 years)

The time from freshman year to the first measure of success, student testing, takes 2 years. While seeing if students continue to college would force us to wait six to seven years. And to measure the economic impact education (rate of return)  has on students lasts 18 to 27 years!

All of those measures signify something significant, but I agree with Chad and others who are wanting to emphasis intermediate outcomes for a more thorough analysis of student achievement.

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