TEST is a Four-Letter Word

By Juliet Frate, NUMATS Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


Has testing become a(n) (un)necessary evil in your gifted child’s life?  If so, you are not alone.  Parents and educators alike often express dismay at the number of tests that have become part of the day-to-day school experience in this era of data-driven accountability.

We know high-stakes, state-specific, summative assessments engendered a rash of locally developed, subject-specific, formative assessments to avoid surprises at the end of the year.  Administrators and teachers then began to feel the pressure to “teach to the test” to ensure job security.  Parents, too, realized that test scores can impact the opportunities available to their high-achieving children . . . as well as the real estate value of their homes!  (Read Testing Miss Malarkey for a humorous take on testing today.)

The problem, though, is not assessment itself, but rather the who, what, when, where, why, and how of assessment as currently legislated and utilized.  So let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Assessment, when used efficiently and effectively, provides the feedback needed to inform and support all planning, teaching, and learning.  In reality, assessment can play a pivotal role in the process gifted learners use to construct meaning and gain the knowledge, skills, and conceptual understanding needed to reach full potential.

The American Psychological Association’s Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004) tells us, “Test users should select tests that meet the intended purpose and that are appropriate for the intended test takers.”  So let’s advocate for policies that specify

  • Assessment practices – How will the data be collected (e.g., multiple-choice questions, open-ended response)?  How will the collected data be evaluated (e.g., checklist, rubric)?
  • Assessment purpose – Does the assessment provide evidence OF (summative), FOR (formative), and/or AS (reflection) learning?  How will this evidence be used?
  • Assessment recording and reporting – How will the results of assessments be documented and communicated?

And let’s remember that one assessment, one snapshot in time, cannot tell the whole story.  (Take a look at Zoom to see how one picture can be misleading!)  Rather we need a photo album approach . . . especially for gifted students.  We currently advocate for accelerated placements, enrichment opportunities, and differentiated instruction.  But in this era of data and accountability, we must also advocate for differentiated assessment. 

Julie Frate is the coordinator of Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS). If you are interested in including above-grade-level testing in your child’s portfolio of differentiated assessments, visit http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/register.

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