Friday, June 24, 2016

Do Interim Tests Help?

You know the drill. We have to take the Big Standardized Tests in the spring, so in the fall and winter, maybe multiple times, we're going to take the pre-test, or practice test, or interim test, or testing test test.

The plan is that this will get the students ready for the BS Test (because it is such an artificial, inauthentic task that it doesn't resemble any other activity except taking similar inauthentic pre-test practice interim testy test tests). Even more importantly, in some schools, it will let us target the students based on how likely they are to make us look bad come test time.

Procedures vary by school, but a popular approach is to sort students into three categories: Don't Have To Worry About Them, Hopeless, and Maybe If We Really Hammer These Kids We Can Get Them To Squeak Through. The first two groups get little or no attention, and the third group gets "extra attention" which may take the form of anything form extra drill in math and language class all the way up to being pulled out of non-test classes so that their whole day can be devoted to test prep.

There is a cottage industry in pre-test practice interim testing tests. My district used to use the 4sight tests, until we noticed that their ability to predict BS Test results was only slightly better than reading the bumps on a dancing toad under a full moon. These days we're dabbling in NWEA voodoo, so we'll see.

Well, maybe we'll see. After a decade of interim testing, plenty of teachers have an opinion about how well it actually works. Now there's a piece of research that looks at the usefulness of interim testing. 

The verdict? At best, it doesn't make BS Test scores drop. At best.

As always, the research comes with lots of caveats. The study covers about 30,000 students at 70 different schools in Indiana. Two interim testing programs were studied. The study used data from 2010-2011. The write-up includes sentences like "Two-level models were used to capture the nesting in the data."

Nevertheless, the answer to the question "Do pre-test practice interime testing testy test testicles help" is, according to this paper, "No, not at all." Specifically, in the case of the 3-8 grade students, the students with interim testing did no better than the students without. In the case of K-2 students, the students who were interimly tested actually did worse than those who were left alone to play and learn and all the other things that students can do in school when they're not wasting time on test-based test prep for their big test (which as K-2 students, they shouldn't be taking in the first place, but of course we have to get them taking those tests early on so that when the BS Tests start really counting in third grade, the entire process has been normalized-- in other words, the K-2 tests are basically pre-test practice interim tests for the 3-8 tests).

I'm not going to hold this small piece of research up as a final word on the subject, but it is a data point, and the data point says what many of us in the classroom already believed-- the pre-test practice interim testing test is a waste of time and money.

1 comment:

  1. Well, color me shocked...but glad that someone's looking closely at this.