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Blog

An Alternative to High-Stakes Testing

Kerri Milyko

In the news, mom groups, and talk radio, people are talking about the “Opt Out” movement that is spreading across our country.  A good number of teachers and parents, not to mention students, are upset over the number and type of high-stakes tests that our students are required to take and are opting out of taking the tests.  While I would agree that some of these new, unverified, and/or poorly designed tests are not suited for our students when such serious consequences for both student and teacher are contingent upon their results, some form of testing is necessary for progress monitoring.  Reliable, objective progress monitoring should guide teacher instruction and intervention based upon the individual student.

Some schools in Hillsborough and Pasco counties are starting to use a beautiful progress monitoring tool for students on Level 2 or Level 3 RtI (see previous article about RtI). These assessments are called Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) probes.  These assessments are derived from and closely resemble the current curriculum utilized in the classroom.  Furthermore, these assessments are administered for a brief time period (1 min to 5 min) on a more frequent basis (weekly) when compared to standardize testing.  CBM probes have been found to enhance individualized instruction, predict performance on targeted areas, improve teacher preparation, and serve as a test to recognize academically at risk students. Teachers may develop CBM probes independently or the school may purchase them from a company specializing in CBM generation.  Regardless of how the CBM probes are developed, they are extremely useful and available to all teachers. 

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When any test is given once, the utility is mostly one of reporting than of intervention.  This is the case for the FCAT, FSA, ITBS, PARCC, SAT, and other similar tests.  They are so long and burdensome for teacher and student that they are only administered once and cannot guide intervention.  All they can do is report if the child is on level at the end of the school year.  This is unlike the CBM.  The CBM, since administered briefly and weekly, can immediately report to the teacher if the student starts to fall behind other classmates, in what area, and that intervention is warranted to change progress.  During the first few weeks of CBM assessment, student performance on a CBM probe is plotted on a chart and a goal is set for where the teacher would like the student to reach by the end of the year.  The projected performance goal line is drawn on the graph.  Student progress, based on weekly CBM probes, is then evaluated with respect to a pre-established goal line (i.e., trend or learning line).  If CBM probe performance tracks the desired trajectory as displayed on each student’s chart, an instructional change is not necessary and the child’s performance is considered progressing at an appropriate rate. On the other hand, if behavior falls below the line, performance is deemed below grade level where an intervention is warranted.  Finally, if CBM probe performance exceeds what was anticipated, then a new goal is created based on the advanced performance. 

So, while we join the parents, teachers, and students in the frustration over high-stakes testing that serve very limited utility, we want to educate parents that an alternative is available.  Testing, progress monitoring, assessment or any other word you choose for objective evaluation is important.  But there is an unconventional replacement that can still serve the purpose for reporting student level, but does so more frequently so that it is functional to student and teacher behavior.