Seeing and Believing: Putting Test Scores in Context

Video needs context

Testing for college readiness is here to stay, so let’s keep it in context.

by Greg Cunningham, JFYNetWorks Blended Learning Specialist

Video violence floods our feeds. Angry people raging, flight attendants mauling passengers, sports fans bellowing and berating, demonstrators denigrating and damning. Even the once-staid networks lead with the day’s most explosive visuals. The tsunami of video has not only engulfed reality, it has become our primary reality. We don’t see events– we see the video of events. Without the video, we wouldn’t know an event had occurred. Seeing may still be believing, but what we’re seeing is the virtual reality of cell phones, drones and real-time streaming.

What video does not provide is context. What happened before the recording started? Was there provocation? Was there a reason for violent reaction? Was it self-defense? This is not to justify violence or boorishness, but the lack of context around raw footage titillates our sensationalistic addiction and stimulates our craving without providing enough information to understand what actually happened. Sound bites and sight bites are not a balanced information diet. Context is everything in the quest for definitive knowledge, if indeed we want such knowledge.

In the world of education, students and teachers have been asked for decades to furnish definitive proof that students are ready to graduate from high school, and ready to take college courses. State tests were developed in the early 2000s to provide documented proof. But do the qualifying tests we require students to pass really provide a legitimate context? Or are test scores simply raw video exploiting our statistical addiction and avoiding a more complete and accurate contextual assessment of the student?

The score on any test– SAT, ACT or Accuplacer— is intended to demonstrate readiness for college-level work. The higher the score, the readier the student should be. But the score may not tell the whole story; context may be necessary in order to reach an accurate judgment about the student.

To be successful in college and after, students need the skills to read, write and compute at the necessary levels, engage in critical thinking, gather information and organize it in a clear and concise essay. A student can cram and pass a test, but that hardly demonstrates mastery of the subject. Months later, when the crammed information has been forgotten, the skills are not likely to be available for use in an academic or employment context.

Complex skills develop over time. They should be acquired, assessed and measured incrementally during that period of time. JFY’s blended learning model, which includes assessment, instruction, measurement and classroom support, enables a student to build skills incrementally and cumulatively. The objective is not just to pass a test, but to develop and practice the skills necessary for college and career success. Instructional software can differentiate lessons individually based on the student’s needs. Combined with coordinated teacher-led classroom instruction in the blended learning model, it is a proven winner for students and teachers. When students improve their skills and systematically build on those skills, they are assured not only of passing tests but of achieving higher levels of competence in college classes and in the workplace.

Like the videos that swamp our newsfeeds, testing is here to stay. But treating a test as an end in itself is the equivalent of raw video with no context. If students are fully engaged in the classroom with a teacher and software customized to their learning needs– the blended learning model– they are in the best position to build their skills and advance toward higher-level critical thinking, writing, communication and creative problem-solving. Test scores will follow, and we won’t need screaming video to prove it!

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