Test-Centric Literacy Instruction

Jennifer Brown, EDCI 813, Fall 2015

Practices and Commitments of Test- centric Literacy Instruction: Lessons From a Testing Transition

Davis, D. S., & Willson, A. (2015). Practices and commitments of test-centric literacy instruction: Lessons from a testing transition. Reading Research Quarterly, 50(3), 357–379. doi:10.1002/rrq.103

Summary

This article looked at the changes in literacy instruction that occurred while a group of south/central Texas teachers prepared students to take the new standardized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test (STAAR). This transition occurred during the 2011 school year and highlights teachers' instructional strategies. It discusses their self-consciousness about preparing their students for success on the new assessment. It also offers three explanations of how specific test-related practices are deeply embedded in literacy instruction.


(For the purpose of this handout, any general terms such as tests or assessments refers to externally mandated assessments.)

Research Methodology

This qualitative research study resulted in copious amount of data collected through semi-structured interviews with 12 participants. The authors used preplanned and inductive coding to take the data through a three-step process. First, they read the transcribed interviews and separated them into broad categories. Next, they used the data "to develop a more specific set of codes describe the full range of experiences described by the participants" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 362). Finally, they used the codes to visualize emerging patterns of test-centric instruction.

Thematical Findings

Teacher Practices Attributed to External Assessment

"There is deeply entrenched suite of practices related to external assessment" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 365).


There were several activities that teachers frequently employed that were directly related to testing. This included, but was not limited to: test-taking strategy instruction, benchmark testing, annotating passages, and frequent discussion and public sharing of data (Davis & Willson, 2015).

Uncertainty about State Standards

"Preexisting practices and assumptions were temporarily disrupted by transition- related uncertainties" (Davis & Wilson, 2015, p. 365).

Teachers experienced some confusion about certain standards. They were not sure about what 'rigor' entailed or how it will change testing expectations (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 369). They also were eager to get their hands on examples of how the questions would be formatted so they could present their lessons the same way and "kill as many birds with one stone" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 370).

Testing Practices Creep into Learning All-Year Around

According to the authors findings, teachers generally believe that students and treat them as they "are unable and should not be expected to generalize their knowledge across tasks, settings, or question types" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 375). Because of this, strategies and teaching methods that are well-known to be ineffective continue to occur in classrooms.

Practical Connections

It seems as though externally mandated testing is something that cannot be avoided. It can be seen in the table below that Kansas students begin testing state-wide at grade three, and even earlier if they are English language learners. Having spent the majority of my teaching career in kindergarten through third grade, I have seen the trickle down effect of test-centric literacy practices. In my experience, it is not limited to grades required to test.
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According to the authors findings, teachers generally believe that students "are

unable and should not be expected to generalize their knowledge across tasks, settings, or question types" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 375). Teachers have to trust their ability to provide quality instruction and the students' abilities to apply their knowledge and skills in a variety of formats.


Teachers should also carefully evaluate and reflect on their own practices in light of these findings. What is occurring in the classroom that is a result of test preparation and not good teaching practices?


Once there is awareness, what is next?

Stop!

1. STOP using text that is formatted like the test (Davis & Willson, 2015).


2. STOP requiring students to show written evidence of what specific test-taking strategies they have employed (Davis & Willson, 2015).


3. STOP asking "test-formatted questions as a focus of classroom discussions" (Davis & Willson, 2015, p. 377).


4. STOP talking about benchmark data from state-provided practice tests (Davis & Willson, 2015).

Personal Conclusions

If teachers trust their researched-based instructional methods and strategies, students should be able to apply their knowledge to the external assessments. While I do believe that students deserve a chance to explore the digital format of a testing platform, teaching to the test is probably hurting our students in the long run. I would definitely find it interesting to see this study replicated in other regional areas of the United States.


Interesting note...

I recently graded my first mid-term exam for a class in which I am a graduate teaching assistant. I was shocked at the number of students (college seniors) who used test-taking strategies for this exam. The two least likely responses were crossed out, certain key words were underlined in the questions, asterisks were placed by questions they were unsure of an answer. I am assuming this is residual training from standardized testing while in elementary and secondary school.

References

Davis, D. S., & Willson, A. (2015). Practices and commitments of test-centric literacy instruction: Lessons from a testing transition. Reading Research Quarterly, 50(3), 357–359. doi:10.1002/rrq.103


Kansas Department of Education. (2015). 2015-2016 Kansas assessments overview. Retrieved from http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/CSAS/CSAS%20Home/Assessments/2015-16%20Kansas%20Assessments%20Overview.pdf