Give up? It stands for “What You Test Is What You Get.” I learned this yesterday from Alan Schoenfeld, the opening speaker of “Assessment of Mathematical Proficiencies in the Age of the Common Core,” a workshop at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. He went on, “In a high states assessment context, tests drive instruction as much or more than standards do.”
This idea was confirmed this morning by David Baiz, a middle school math teacher in New York City, who said “teachers will continue to teach to the test as long as high-stakes testing exists.” He went on to explain that in NYC public schools, a student gets a single score — 1, 2, 3, or 4 — on the mathematics assessment in eighth grade. The public high school system is “open,” meaning students apply to get into them, and no one with a score of 3 or 4 will be admitted to any of the more prestigious schools. A student’s score will also determine his or her placement in a math track for the next four years. High stakes indeed for these 13- and 14-year-olds. Their teachers care about them and want them to do well, hence the focus on tests. Baiz showed us an item from a New York State 2010 test, in which students were given four polynomials and asked to identify which is a trinomial. “There’s no math in that question, but I have to prepare my students for it.”
One theme from today is this: given that (a) high-stakes testing isn’t going away in the near future, and (b) teachers will teach to the test, we are obligated to insist on, and maybe even help create, tests that bring about the kind of learning we want to see. This is hard work. Between lectures, the conference participants are working in groups of 4 – 6 writing assessment items. My group is working on a formative assessment item for eighth grade that focuses on a particular Common Core content standard as well as several of the practice standards, and we’ve spent several hours together so far on the first draft of one item.
More reports from the conference to follow. I’m quite glad I came.