Improving Standardized Test Scores Through Better Proctoring Methods

Improving standardized test scores is the bottom line in many schools. One of my connections in my Professional Learning Network is stressing out about the expectations that she'll have to meet in the coming year. In our discussions, I try to assure her that one should try to teach to the standards as best as possible and weave problem solving standards into every unit. This woman is so nervous, and rightfully so. Teachers get fired over not making the grade these days.

Needless to say, (or perhaps I do) I find this practice appalling. Yes, I think that schools should be accountable, but dismissing poor performing teachers and not providing them the necessary training and professional development to become better is self defeating as a nation and will guarantee a high turnover of educators. One person likened the US teaching profession as a species that "cannibalizes its young".

Rather than join the ranks of thousands who continue lamenting this practice and pray for the day when it will end, I hope to explore and share some ideas on how to improve test scores in a way that is constructive and helpful to others. I too have MAP testing in the fall and spring, but we're still collecting data on the practice. A few days ago, I called the good people at "Northwest Evaluation Association" NWEA to ask them a few questions that I had regarding test results for my class and populations as a whole. I had navigated the labyrinth of their website, read hundreds of pages on interpreting the results and could not find any information on negative growth.

I have always had a couple of kids that had showed negative growth from fall to spring and even more perplexing were that these students were good students. The two reasons that they had for negative growth were:
  1. Students were not spending enough time on the questions
  2. Students were not engaged with the questions
To alleviate these problems, it gave a few explanations but but was light on recommendations. I imagine because this it is a scientific measure, and it would naturally bias the data sample if some proctors went outside their mandate to give tips that were not included in the proctor dialogue box which is be read aloud to the students. Here's what they are:

Students not spending enough time on a question. They gave a general rule of thumb of spending at least 25 seconds on a question and 25 to 30 minutes on each test. It also said that "proctors should watch students to ensure that they're taking their time". Apparently, the longer time is spent on a test, the higher the score is.

Students not engaged with the questions. At our school, we tell this students that this assessment will measure growth and it will be reported to them, but their results are not included on their report cards. Although we do encourage them to do their best, could it be possible that they're rushing through it? NWEA states that generally, a student is engaged early on and their interest tapers off, affecting them negatively. A teacher promising a reward when the class if finished can also deflate scores and raise the level of apathy.

Other points. It was reccomended that if a student has a negative growth score of -11 or more, they should be considered for a retest. 

I don't want to unfairly bias an assessment, but it would seem to make these points forthcoming the day before an assessment would not violate the proctors mandate, and might just give their classes score a boost. In all our plans to improve curriculum an do test-prep, we may find a noticeable and significant change from these subtle and quick recommendations:
  1. Encourage students not to "rush" their tests. Yes, they will get tired and may have brain drain, but tell them to use their best critical thinking skills for as long as they can. 
  2. Don't have more than one test per day, it increases fatigue. 
  3. Ask students to have a good night sleep the night before and a healthy breakfast the morning of an assessment. 
  4. Lighten homework loads as a staff the week you're assessing to ensure that students are not staying up too late and having undue stress. 
  5. Give them positive encouragement to help them engage with the test. 
  6. Don't promise any rewards to early test finishers such as free computer game time. Also, make note of early finishers and see if there is a correlation between early finishers and lower scores.
Sources: Negative Growth NWEA,

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