Popham, Chapter 13 Pondertime & Chapter 14 Pondertime, Due February 29, 2012

Chapter 13 Pondertime (p. 332, #1, #2)
1.  If you had to use only one of the three individual student interpretation schemes treated in this chapter (percentiles, grade-equivalent scores, and scale scores), which one would it be?  Why did you make that choice?

Given the constraint of only using one score interpretation scheme, I would use percentiles. I am imagining that my most prevalent reason for interpreting scores is in talks with parents and students. I like the advantages that percentiles are fairly easy to understand, and I think I could explain norm group issues with most people in a fairly short time or with little difficulty.

(Popham, 2011, p. 322)

2.  It is sometimes argued that testing companies and state departments of education adopt scale-score reporting methods simply to make it more difficult for everyday citizens to understand how well students perform.  (It’s easier for citizens to make sense out of “65% correct” than “an IRT scale score of 420.”)  Do you think there’s any truth in that criticism?

By now I think we are all used to Popham’s (2011) cynicism. Given the amount of information that barrages “everyday citizens” today, it is probably encouraging that they even try to understand stories about student performance. I think that a story that is discussing scores probably already has an underlying agenda that will necessarily preclude any extensive discussion of scoring philosophies and methodologies. For example:

”Scores are going down: Pass the Levy to Arrest the Free-Fall” or
”Scores are going up: Defeat the Levy since it is not Needed”

[If I had more time I would find some recent stories about student scores and discuss them here.]

NOTE: I found this chapter pretty successful at staying above the fray of standardized testing, and its opponents and proponents. However, when I saw that Popham (2011) had a reference to an article by Jo Boaler (2003) on Riverside, I had to read it. You ought to read it too, since it gives some detail on how and why standardized testing and the reporting of scores on said tests frequently goes very wrong for our underserved populations.

Chapter 14 Pondertime (p. 350, #1, #2)
1.  Can you think of guidelines, other than the two described in the chapter, to be used in evaluating a classroom teacher’s test-preparation practices?  If so, what are they?

I am in a real quandary on this question.  Part of my dilemma is due to an SAT preparation course that I will start teaching next week at my school.  This class is also the basket into which I have thrown all of my TPA “eggs”.   Before I had read this chapter I was going to use as the basis for my lesson, readily-accessible previous forms (“ethically not OK” ?), and study guides which have the same format (“educationally indefensible” ??!) as well as going over some testing tips.

[This quandary hit me the evening of 2/27, and I was cranky all day 2/28.]

Now after ruminating on it, I don’t want to add guidelines, I want to remove one, for I think that educational defensibility is a crock.  For a few reasons.

First, the test questions are the learning goals.  We learned this in our “Understanding by Design” tasks in EDU6171.  You start with the assessment.  You work backward from there, building a gradual and compelling chain of lessons and learning activities that virtually ensure that the assessment can be successfully completed.

Second, if it isn’t tested then it isn’t learned.  All your best lessons are mere vapor, unless you test for that information and demand recall.  The only way a high school student can prove that they were doing anything for 12-13 years of education is if there is a test on it.

Third, testing is not going away.  I don’t think standardized testing should go away either.  I took a couple of AP tests, I took the PSAT, the SAT, I took the ASVAB, I took the GRE, I took the WEST-B, I took a couple of WEST-E’s and I know people that took the EIT and the Foreign Service Exam.  Popham urges us to not teach to the test but if the test were a work of staggering genius which could really measure what we thought students should all know and measured it in a way that we all thought was fair, we would definitely teach to that standard.  The truth is testing needs to go that way and not retreat before the onslaught of those who want to relax a simple standard of one student, sitting quietly, writing out all that he or she knows about a given topic.

Based on the fact that tests have valid goals, that testing forces students to drill and rehearse,  repeat and remember, and that testing is not going away, I think teaching to the test is fundamentally defensible.  So teach to the test, but if you are still holding onto your quaint purist notions, you can, like Popham, qualify that it is the test or rather its contents to which you are teaching.

I resolve to make real connections between test content and standards.
I resolve to use every ethical means possible to get my students to succeed at standardized and other tests. 
I resolve to view the test as a minimum bar, a flawed, imprecise and quirky bar, but a necessary bar.
I resolve to thus teach to the test and then teach, teach, teach some more. 
I resolve to quit belly-aching about the test, and start teaching. 

Finally, I think testing and test preparation is a social justice issue.  Take a look at the following data and see if you can spot the trend(s)…

(College Board, 2011, p. 4)

I teach to the exam so that students can jump the barriers that their family income have presented to them.  I teach to the exam so that they can get into college, stay there, and then get their children into college.  It’s the long view, it’s a definite challenge, but it starts with excelling on the current standardized tests that we have right now, as a minimum.

2.  How about test preparation practices?  Can you think of any other sorts of test-preparation guidelines that are meaningfully different from the five described in the chapter?  If so, using the chapter’s two evaluative guidelines or any new ones you might prefer, how appropriate are such test-preparation practices?

Teachers are in an arms-race with the the test creators and that tension and dynamism is exactly what we need.

I find it mildly interesting that there are no test preparation practices that pass the Educationally Defensible test, but fail the Professional Ethics test.  Maybe that is a hint at something we are missing here.  Does faulty ethics automatically imply that something is not educationally defensible?


Boaler, J. (2003). When Learning No Longer Matters: Standardized Testing and the Creation of Inequality. Phi Delta Kappan. 84(7). pp. 502-6. Retrieved February 26, 2012 from EBSCO

CollegeBoard. (2011).  2011 College-Bound Seniors:  Total Group Profile Report.  CollegeBoard.  Retrieved February 28, 2012 from http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/cbs2011_total_group_report.pdf

Popham, W.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know. (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Guidelines:  for evaluating test-preparation practices.
(Popham, 2011, p. 338).
(Popham, 2011, p. 339).

[Test Preparation] Practices:  methods of getting ready for tests.
1. Previous-form preparation. (e.g. you stole SAT test question booklets out of a dumpster after they were administered)
2. Current-form preparation. (e.g. you photocopied the SAT test which will be given on March 3rd, and sold it to students)
3. Generalized test-taking preparation. (e.g. “if you can rule out 2 answers, consider guessing”)
4. Same-format preparation.  (e.g. “SAT questions look like this, sound like this, use these tricks”)
5. Varied-format preparation.  (e.g. I will not use the same font or layout that the SAT uses, I have my pride!)

Above summarizes practices described in the Popham (2011) that have been known to be used in preparation for high-stakes tests.

(Popham, 2011, p. 344).


And finally a Gedankenexperiment:

Consider the following thought experiment. What if a test could be devised that was:

a. fair to all takers: ELL, low SES, ethnically diverse, gender, orientation (questions didn’t have any positive discrimination factors that could be used to identify subgroups of test takers)
b. aligned to standards: it neither left any concepts out, nor did it add anything superfluous.

Such a test—despite all of its perfection—would  still have detractors, such a test would still cause people to be against testing in general, such a test would still be blamed for society’s ills.  I think that is because the average person has a deep resentment of ranking and especially when that ranking does not put the average person at the top, where they tend to think they belong, despite all statistical improbability which that view affords.

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  • heidirowles  On March 5, 2012 at 4:54 am

    That is a bold statement to say that “The only way a high school student can prove that they were doing anything for 12-13 years of education is if there is a test on it.” I am not sure if I agree. Everything we have learned in teacher-school is that assessment is for the assessor. It is to be used by teachers as a window into the minds of their pupils. Although I agree with the statement you made about recall being necessary for the completion of a learning cycle, this hasn’t been harped on by Popham or by our professors as a cause for assessment in the classroom. What compelled you to make the leap from assessments serve to “demand recall” to the only documentation of twelve years of learning?

    • John Weisenfeld  On March 24, 2012 at 7:28 am

      My statement was partially prompted by reflection on both the SAT and more recently on the HSPE (High School Proficiency Examination) testing. Both are more-or-less required by various bodies to prove that a student has gained a certain basic level of understanding in some key knowledge domains.

      That’s the reality of the current dynamics in education and standardized testing. My statement is either tinged with hyperbole or cynicism, depending on how much you believe that standardized tests are being overused. I still maintain that there will *always* be tests. I also maintain that to a certain extent they are being used, since the HSPE is required for graduation in this state, to prove that a student has learned anything in their whole P-12 school career.

      That’s sad, perhaps, if students really buy into a test as the arbiter of their unique understanding and the sum total of their knowledge on any topic. But the reality is that tests are being used to sort, and grade, and so the point of my post was to elucidate my own awakening that I must teach to the test. And that after some gut-wrenching reflection, I believe that such teaching is educationally defensible, as long as those tests are being used. I believe that the test is a start at a curriculum.

      I am doing my students a disservice if I don’t teach to the test and then broaden out from there as much as time or interest allows. For, if I don’t and they aren’t equipped for the test, then they are at risk of being deemed by the system as not having learning anything. Which is *not* true in any circumstance.

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