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Teachers Network Learning Institute: Affiliates: TNLI MetLife Fellow Lisa Peterson


Why Do Bad Test Scores Happen to Good Students? 
A Comparison of Teacher Assessments with Standardized Tests

Two of my star seventh grade readers scored in the “failing” category on their standardized reading test. These two girls had read numerous grade-appropriate books, had written creative and insightful responses, and would frequently take extra books home for the weekend. They were able to read difficult books and to read them faster. According to the city’s policy, the girls were in danger of failing the grade and might have to go to summer school. What kind of reward was this for all of their hard work? How would this make them feel about themselves and about reading? I questioned the test. What kind of assessment could miss these girls’ talent and progress? How could other students, who didn’t read as well, have scored higher? I also questioned my teaching. Was it possible these girls really didn’t understand the books they had read all year? Had I missed important clues when assessing them? I wondered what I could find out by comparing standardized test scores with detailed teacher assessments of a particular student.

Learn what Lisa found out in her action research paper: 

Full Paper (PDF file)

Policy Implications

1) Students and teachers can and should be held accountable for their progress, but assessments should incorporate multiple measures of student achievement. 
Simple multiple-choice questions aren’t adequate to capture the complexity of student learning. In my research, I examined the work of a student deemed “far below grade level” on a multiple-choice reading test. I found that in her written essays, this student was able to demonstrate not only a reasonable understanding of grade-level texts, but also above-average proficiency in expression and style. 

2) Teachers need the professional development and time necessary to analyze their students’ work in depth. 
I found that the process of analyzing this student’s work as a body, rather than simply grading individual assignments, provided me with an incredibly detailed picture of her instructional needs. Because I was conducting action research, I was able to draw upon the expertise and advice of colleagues. Our students would be better served if all teachers had the time and assistance to analyze all students’ work in such detail.

Related Research Articles

Who Knows Our Children?
by Mark Grashow Building Connectedness: One Strategy to Improve Academic, Social and Emotional Learning
Kate Lewis

The Effect of Perfomance-Based Assessment on Student Achievement
by Janet Price

Lisa Peterson

"Just because you taught it doesn't mean the students learned it." -- anonymous

Lisa Peterson writes: 
I currently teach Title I reading to sixth through eighth graders at I.S. 218 in Manhattan’s District 6. I began teaching with the Teach For America program in 1990. Over the past twelve years, I have taught fifth and sixth grade self-contained classes and seventh and eighth grade humanities (English and social studies). I also spent a year working as a technology staff developer as part of the American Gateways federal challenge grant. I graduated from Yale University and received my MEd in Early Adolescent  Education at Bank Street College of Education. My research interests include student assessment, school scheduling, and developmentally appropriate literacy and social studies instruction.


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