English Testing - Great Idea From Lisa Hansel

How could states create much better English standardized tests?  The goal would be tests that:

1. Induce schools to have kids actually read lots of books (particularly science, social studies, music, geography, civics)....rather than do lots of reading strategy practice or other stuff that doesn't really help much anyway. 

2. Measure more of what teachers "control" (the books that kids are assigned to read, not the vocabulary/knowledge level of the kids the day they walked in the door, presumably from their homes).

3. Is a 2-fer....English tests that double as science and social studies tests. 

The problem to date has been that every school reads different stuff.   As Lisa writes:

The only way to construct truly fair reading comprehension tests is to ensure that the passages are on topics that have been taught in school. Since states’ English language arts standards usually do not specify which books, poems, short stories, etc. to teach in each grade, ELA standards are a poor guide for test developers concerned with equity.

Lisa has the solution, though. 

But states’ science and social studies standards usually do specify some core content to be taught in each grade. The obvious path forward is to construct reading comprehension tests that assess language arts skills using the science and social studies content specified in the standards.

After all, skills depend on relevant prior knowledge, so such tests would give a more accurate picture of schools’ impact on students’ language abilities than our current random-content tests. And for the cost and time of just one test, we would have a decent gauge of three subjects.

Even better would be to draw the topics for passages on reading comprehension tests from science, social studies, art, music, geography, and civics standards.

So does Lisa's idea accomplish our 3 goals?  Why yes. 

Such tests would (1) induce schools to develop a broad, content-rich curriculum and support teacher collaboration, (2) reduce the impact of the home on students’ scores, (3) build the knowledge and vocabulary that is essential to literacy, and (4) be the foundation for an accountability system that requires fewer tests yet still ensures that standards are being met.

A very clever idea.  The estimable Joanne Jacobs likes it too. 

Read Lisa's whole thing here