Wednesday, July 3, 2019


We wrote a few weeks ago about the issues with using a standardized test like the SBAC to evaluate the academic progress we make with our students how a gain of a percentage point or two with proficiency rates tells us nothing about what our kids are learning. In fact, it was only last year that few if any of the SBAC consortium states made any gains at all! In state after state, reports of nonexistent student growth provided cause for concern. The reality is that SBAC scores are reflective of poverty and other community factors as much as anything, and can be predicted without giving the test in some cases.

So, is there a way to accurately reflect growth in student performance that will show us whether students have learned the content they have have been taught?

Summary Data

Fortunately, the answer is unequivocally YES, if we measure what is being taught in our classrooms by our teachers to our students. We did that with pre-post assessments in our United States History 11 course during the second semester of the 2018-19 school year. 

In the second semester pre-test, 140 of 188 students (74%) scored less than 50%, while only 5 scored greater than 70%. Clearly, then, most students did not have a good handle on the content of the second semester - and that's what we would expect. 

On the post-test, however, the results were almost completely the reverse. 140 students  (74%) answered 70% or more of the test questions correctly, while only 7% (12 students) correctly answered fewer than 50% of the questions. That's pretty impressive, and evidence that our teachers are doing a great job teaching the content and their students. 

Individual Items/Concepts

But let's look more closely at some examples of content that is crucial to understanding the history of our country, and how our students did on questions measuring that knowledge.

Here's Question 26 from the test.

Kind of an important concept for kids to understand, right? So important, in fact, that "McCarthyism" and "Red Scare" are widely understood as critical markers in the history of our country.

Back in January, however, few of our U.S. History students knew about the Wisconsin Senator and his campaign against "suspected" Communists:

In fact, as many students thought McCarthy probably helped the Soviets (choices A and B) as thought he was "red-baiting"(choice C).

In May on the post-test, students demonstrated their knowledge convincingly.

Here is another example of student progress on the End of Course U.S. History assessment:

In January, 38% of students answered the Watergate questions correctly. By May, the percentage of correct answers was 81. Almost as many students thought that "checks and balances" were a casualty of the Watergate scandal - certainly that system suffered, but public confidence was forever changed.

One of the advantages for teachers of giving a pre-post test and seeing the results in an item analysis is that they can see where gaps in student learning exist. For example, this question:

On the pre-test, 32% of students correctly identified "C" as the answer to question 27, and student, 30% chose "B", and 20% each chose the other options.

On the post-test, 61% of students chose the correct answer, so double the percentage in January, but still relatively low. And 20% still identified "B" as the correct answer, giving teachers an opportunity for instruction about the era of the fifties in the future.

All in all, the pre-post testing opportunity provides us with evidence of the progress our students make during a semester or a year, and gives our teachers opportunities for instructional improvement. In some cases, it may also indicate that particular questions should be tweaked or rewritten.

It's vitally important to know how we are doing with content we are actually teaching to our students. This EOC assessment process is much more informative than the "mystery testing" we do with the SBAC, and more on target with instruction (and covers more instructional areas) than the SAT, though the SAT with its item analysis provides some valuable information about comparative student performance on math and language arts concepts.

The Boise District intends to expand its pre-post testing in the next few years. Stay tuned for posts about the progress we are making.