Standardized Science Tests Or Substandard Tools?
Fourth and Eighth-graders across New York State are in the midst of taking their 2012 standardized "science performance tests." With some exceptions (see the May 2012 memo issued by the NYS Department of Education, "all public school students in Grade 4 and Grade 8 must take the State assessments administered for their grade level."
The 2012 manual for administrators and teachers involved in the fourth-grade tests says that NYS Science Performance Test is meant "to serve as a basis for determining students’ needs for academic intervention services in science." The test is designed to measure the content and skills contained in the Elementary-Level Science Core Curriculum, Grades K–4. It has two parts, a written test and a performance test.
The Written Test consists of multiple-choice and open-ended questions and requires about one hour to administer. The Performance Test (Form A) consists of hands-on tasks set up at three stations and requires about 75 minutes to administer.
Here is a question from the 2011 written test:
It rained on a hot summer afternoon and a puddle formed. After several hours, the puddle was gone. Which two processes made the puddle form and then disappear?
A precipitation followed by evaporation
B deposition followed by evaporation
C precipitation followed by runoff
D deposition followed by runoff
The hands-on portion of the 2012 test involves setting up stations along prescribed diagrams. The three stations are named: Measuring Objects and Liquids, Electrical and Magnetic Testing, and Ball and Ramp. At each station, test administrators are supposed to print out the diagram and fold it on the dotted line and tape it to the bottom of the station so that the diagram faces the student.
Here is what the "measuring station" looks like:
How wonderfully mechanistic and well-organized. If only it all proceeded like clockwork, giving educators diagnostic tools that they could immediately use as "a basis for determining students’ needs for academic intervention services in science."
Is the testing system set up to achieve this goal? Probably not.