Why rely on Test Companies, Instead of Teachers, to Create Assessments?

By Jessica Choi

Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) which consistently ranks in U.S. News and World Report’s top 100 high schools, recently said that “a good way to create assessments for Common Core-aligned curriculum would be to crowd-source the development and let teachers design them rather than have corporations do it.”

Why is this a revolutionary idea?

Teachers assess students every day. Why weren’t teachers the obvious choice to write the Common Core assessments? Don’t we trust teachers to create quality tests?

Teachers CAN Write Quality Tests
While teaching for MCPS, I was hired to help write the ESOL 4 semester exams. It was an honor.

Teachers from different backgrounds, different levels of teaching experience, and different teaching styles came together over the summer to create the end of semester exams. We were trained and had an advisor who kept us on track. We studied the standards and worked in teams to develop questions for each of the standards. The hardest part was developing questions that would be fair to students of different races, different socio-economic statuses, and students with special needs.  In our group, there were teachers who taught each of those populations, so we worked together to modify questions so that they would be fair for all of our students.

Revision is the Most Important Part
The test went through editing and a formal review process before it was given to students. After the first administration of the test, teachers were asked to send their students’ results for each question and any comments or suggestions they had to the test facilitator.

Maybe ESOL teachers are just super-awesome (as I have often suspected), but I think this would happen in other departments too: ESOL teachers loved giving feedback on the exams. That year and every year after, teachers offered lots of comments, corrections, and suggestions for new questions. Teachers felt empowered because they were not just being told what to do; their professional opinion was being respected.

Although the test writers had done everything we could have to make a fair and balanced test, when the test was administered teachers found questions that were not fair. Those questions were dismissed from the students’ final scores and they were revised for the following year’s test.

How do corporations revise their test questions each year? All the secrecy surrounding test creation means that teachers (the test administrators) are never asked what problems they observed or how they would revise the test for the following year. This seems like a missed opportunity for creating a truly fair and balanced assessment.

Crowd-sourcing Teachers
Teachers are essential to test revision. After every administration of the Common Core assessments, teachers should be asked for comments and corrections so that the questions can be revised appropriately.

Teachers could also be an indispensable part of test creation. Teachers could choose the best questions written by test companies for each standard or they could write their own questions for the assessments.

Giving teachers a voice in the tests they have to administer motivates them to take ownership of the assessments and of their outcomes.

Crowd-sourcing Students
Students could also create good questions for the Common Core assessments if given the right directions and incentives.

Teachers often ask students to write sample test questions to review for tests. Sometimes teachers use the questions students have written as the real test questions. I think students would create appropriate questions if awards were given for the best ones.

If students write the questions, then teachers could choose the best ones for each standard.

The Role of Test Companies
Test companies should serve as a facilitator. We need an outside company to manage the technology, analyze the data, choose the final questions and keep the final product a secret before the test.

But test companies currently operate in an academic utopia where they create assessments based on how students should interpret questions. Tests need to be written by teachers who have a better understanding of how students will interpret questions.

What do you think? Could students and teachers create better assessments than corporations?

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Comments (2)

  1. It is true, there has always been a linguistic/geographical bias in tests from the East Coast (galoshes, rubbers, rain boots, for example) But I do believe a firm collaboration between the local writers and the national test writers is important to maintain the same goals and objectives and level of achievement. There should be fair and reasonable administration of tests.
    I have also observed schools that did not give the full number of minutes allotted by law for students to take the tests, and frequently tested straight through lunch. Even high schoolers need a break!

  2. Jessica Choi

    I taught at a school that was requiring students with extended time to stay after school to finish their standardized tests. The administration thought that this was fair testing practice. I explained that many of my students could not stay because they had jobs or family to take care of. They were failing their tests because they could not stay after school. When my administrators would not change their practice, I contacted the head of testing for our county. She made my administrators change so that they only tested students during the day. As you can imagine, I got into a a lot of trouble with my administration and the rest of my school year was made much more difficult. There should be someone paying closer attention to how tests are administered so that this does not happen.

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