Schools often ask when they should use standardised testing. Twice a year? Once a year ? There is no definitive answer, just a few questions, which, when answered by the school, will make choosing the time of year to assess more logical.
In a way, the introduction of teachers making their overall teacher judgements about where a student sits in the NZ curriculum, has given schools much more freedom in their assessment choices. Moderation is more common and teachers are using a range of assessments, with few relying on single sources of evidence to make their judgements (Wylie, & Berg 2013). So where does standardised testing fit in to the assessment picture?
The NZ Curriculum has a good statement at the beginning of its assessment section on pg. 39:
The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both ...respond to the information it provides.
Keep that statement in mind as you ask yourself:
- What information do I need to gather on which children?
- Does the assessment chosen match the teaching the students have received?
- What is the purpose for gathering this data - how will it help teaching and learning?
There are many different reasons teachers choose standardised assessments to support their judgements. For many schools, the days of blanket testing twice a year for all students are gone.The reasons for using standardised assessment are becoming more considered, more refined, as schools underpin their self-review with deliberate planning.
Reasons might be:
- Closely monitoring a particular cohort of children who have received specific interventions
- Tracking the progress of the cohort identified in the annual target
- Gathering information for a priority learning group
- Gathering schoolwide data to inform strengths and needs in a subject
- Gathering year group data to inform strengths and needs
- Assessing teaching strategies in a particular subject
- Getting reassurance about the moderation process and decisions about individual children
- Cluster data to improve collaboration around improving teaching and learning in a particular subject
- To monitor progress, determine professional development needs, and assess the value of interventions in a particular area
As to the question of when, an important factor to consider is the use of stanines.
If you are going to use stanines to compare your students to the reference group, the trials for the PATs/STAR assessments were done in Term 1. If you choose to do the test in Term 2, 3 the stanines aren’t an easy comparison - your students will obviously look a little better than the Term 1 results. If you do them in Term 4, then it makes more sense to compare them to the Term 1 results of the next reference year level.
If you use the scale score to monitor progress it doesn’t matter what time of the year you assess, because the same scale goes throughout each test of the chosen subject, and as the student increases their knowledge and skill they will move up the scale.
Schools have enormous freedom now to choose the tool and the time that best suits their purpose, but it requires a collaborative response to the question:
What is the purpose for this assessment?