Why a New Test? Here Are Some Answers

March 27, 1994

* As a teacher responsible for training colleagues in the new CLAS assessment, I feel compelled to respond to Karen Eddy's misguided attack of the state's new testing program (letters, March 20). She asks some pointed questions I would like to answer.

Why do we need another state test? Because it is clear to many teachers that the traditional CTBS test is woefully inadequate in measuring student's ability to read, write and compute. Having students fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice exam is a shallow and unauthentic way to measure thinking.

Why do we test special-education students? Because we should assume that special education does not necessarily correlate with low thinking ability. Some students are in special education classes because of emotional problems or physical limitations, not because they can't be challenged intellectually.

Why do we need a test that ignores basic skills such as spelling, math computation and reading vocabulary? Spelling is not ignored, it's included in the scoring rubric. In math, students not only have to compute, but now have to explain how they reached their conclusions. As far as vocabulary comprehension is concerned, the literature chosen for students to interpret is difficult. Clearly this test is more challenging and sets a higher standard for our students to shoot at. What's wrong with that?

It should also be noted that this is the largest in-depth assessment ever attempted in this country. To expect the initial attempt to occur without "bugs" is unrealistic. Given a chance, the test will be phased in over a number of years, and will eventually report individual scores for all students and teachers.

Those who complain about the cost of the assessment miss the bigger picture. The value in this assessment is not that students are asked once a year to demonstrate higher-level thinking skills. The real value is that many teachers will now be motivated by published results to upgrade their teaching. I have already seen this test improve the instructional practices of many teachers.

Incidentally, this improvement among teachers costs the state nothing. In other words, this test is beginning to drive the curriculum in ways that countless other expensive reform movements have failed. Viewed in that light, maybe the test is worth every penny.



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