Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gifted Kids Skip Standardized Tests

In high school, I once opted out of a grade-level standardized test because it would have required me to miss several days of my above grade-level math class. This required some intense negotiation with the school. Grade-level tests are pretty much useless to gifted kids. When taken broadly by all kids, though, test scores can make a school look good or bad. So there's a trade-off. The gifted kid taking the grade-level test is bored, and has her time wasted. But the school gets the benefit of having a high score included in its average. Obviously, given the stakes these days, schools will do anything they can to keep kids from opting out. In most states they aren't even allowed to do so (my school took the line that such tests were like jury duty-- though eventually they relented).

In this era of increased standardized testing, this battle is heating up even more. The Sacramento Bee ran an article last week called Kids Skipping STAR Test noting that 135 students at Davis Senior High School refused to take their grade-level tests. These STAR tests were given right before the SAT and AP tests. So students and their families elected to have the kids stay home and study for the AP exams and SAT, which matter more for individuals.

The school was furious. Only 34 parents requested exemptions last year.
As the principal pointed out, the results of the STAR test are used to rank schools. Davis is, no doubt, a school that posts high test scores. Now the test results might not show that. Indeed, with 100 more high achievers opting out, the school's test scores will drop.

I see the school's point. But of course, my sympathies lie with the bright kids who opted out. The principal may claim that the evidence of so many 99th percentile scores would indicate that Davis is a good school, but gifted kids will score at the 99th percentile on grade level tests even if they're not learning a thing. Such scores tell you nothing about the quality of the school with regard to gifted kids. A school that challenged gifted kids would show a rise in an individual's test scores. To get that for kids who start at the 99th percentile, you have to test them above grade level.

I'd like to see a testing rubric that does just that. A few months ago on this blog, we discussed testing software that would let you answer questions at a higher and higher level until you hit your max. That would give you an indication of your real grade level. You could take a similar test at the end of the school year. If you scored higher -- good for the school. If you didn't, the public should know that -- even if you're testing three grades above level, and would have scored a 99 both times on a grade-level test.

But California doesn't have such an option in place. There are other compromises, of course. The state and the schools could develop some formula for subbing SAT scores and AP scores for grade-level tests. This would require an asterisk in the report. But personally, I'd be more interested in learning that students earned a lot of 5's on AP tests than a school's grade-level scores. The AP tests are enough above grade level that 5's do tell you something. We shall see if anyone tries anything along these lines. In the meantime, though, expect to see a lot more battles in this area over the next few years.

1 comment:

Kim Moldofsky said...

Interesting post, Laura. I shared some of my thoughts on this topic late last year at http://hormonecoloreddays.blogspot.com/2005/12/leave-no-gifted-child-behind.html.

My children's new school uses this test http://www.nwea.org/assessments/ which seems more helpful than what our public school used. And I delighted that very little, if any, class time is used to prepare for these tests.