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  • 4 Common Types of Tests Teachers Give (and Why)

    by LearnEd

    Close-up of a multiple choice answer sheet


    Dr. Kimberly O’Malley is a public school teacher, a mother of two boys, and a Pearson researcher at the Pearson Research & Innovation Network. She specializes in ways to measure student growth and in finding new ways to interpret test scores so that they’re more meaningful.

    When parents hear the word “testing,” many think “clear your desk and take out your No. 2 pencil.” They imagine testing to be what happens at the end of the year when students are faced with blue books and bubble sheets.

    As a public school teacher, I use different types of testing. When I taught my second graders how to tell time on an analog clock, I handed out models of clocks and called out different times. The students moved the hands to express each one, and would hold up their clocks so I could check who was having trouble. I got feedback on student learning during the lesson and it helped me tailor my instruction in real time.

    What testing offers me, as a teacher, is information about where students are in their learning and insights that guide me as I move forward with my lesson plans.

    As a parent, I get testing information on my two boys, Jace (13) and Luke (10), throughout the school year. I use the feedback from different forms of testing — grades on assignments, notes from their teacher, and standardized test results — to track the progress they are making.

    What testing offers me, as a parent, is an understanding of how my boys are doing academically. Test results are a way for me to have eyes on my kids’ classrooms even though I am not there. This information guides what we focus on when we do homework at the kitchen table.

    Understanding the different types of testing, the kinds of results they provide, and how they complement one another can help parents help their children learn.


    Different Types of Testing 

    There are four types of testing in schools today — diagnostic, formative, benchmark, and summative.

    4 types of testing

    Diagnostic Testing

    This testing is used to “diagnose” what a student knows and does not know. Diagnostic testing typically happens at the start of a new phase of education, and covers topics students will be taught in upcoming lessons.

    Teachers use diagnostic testing information to guide what and how they teach. They’ll spend more time teaching skills students struggled with most on the diagnostic test.

    Diagnostic testing can be a helpful tool for parents. The feedback my kids receive on these tests lets me know what kind of content they will be focusing on in class and lets me anticipate which skills or areas they may have trouble with.


    Formative Testing

    This type of testing is used to gauge student learning during the lesson. It is informal and low-stakes, used throughout a lecture and designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate they understand the material (like in my clock activity example above).

    Schools normally do not send home reports on formative testing, but it is an important part of teaching and learning. If you help your children with their homework, you are likely using a version of formative testing as you work together.


    Benchmark Testing

    This testing is used to check whether students have mastered a unit of content. Benchmark testing is given during or after a classroom focuses on a section of material.

    Unlike diagnostic testing, students are expected to have mastered material on benchmark tests. Parents will often receive feedback from these tests - it’s important to me as a parent, as it gives me insight into which concepts my boys did not master. If I want to further review a concept with my boys, I can find lessons, videos, or games online, or ask their teachers for resources.


    Summative Testing

    This testing is used as a checkpoint at the end of the year or course to assess how much content students learned overall. This type of testing is similar to benchmark testing, but covers everything students have been learning throughout the year.

    These tests are given to all students in a classroom, school, or state, so everyone has an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they know. Students demonstrate their ability to perform at the level prescribed as the proficiency standard for the test.

    Since summative tests cover the full range of concepts for a given grade level, they are not able to assess any one concept deeply. As a parent, I consider summative testing a confirmation about what I should already know about my sons’ performance. I don’t expect to be surprised by the results, given the feedback I have received from diagnostic, formative, and benchmark testing.


    Combining Test Results

     We need a balance of the four different types of testing in order to get a holistic view of our children’s academic performance.

    Though each type offers important feedback, the real value is in putting all that data together. First, using a diagnostic test, you can gauge what a student already knows and what she will learn in an upcoming unit. Next, formative tests help teachers and parents monitor the progress a student is making on a daily basis. A benchmark test can be an early indicator of whether students have met a lesson’s goals, allowing parents and teachers to reteach concepts the student is struggling with. Ideally, when heading into summative testing, teachers and parents should already know the extent to which a student has learned the material. The summative testing provides that final confirmation.

    Hopefully, the next time parents hear the word “testing,” they won’t just think of summative testing. Instead, they’ll think of all four types and the value of each in realizing a richer, more thorough understanding of their child’s progress.


    Read the full story on Kimberly's blog.

    Pearson’s Research and Innovation Network is made up of top education experts who explore solutions and innovations for challenges faced by teachers, parents and students. They’re working to ensure that learning is engaging, meaningful,personalized and focused on student success.

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  • More Than a Test Score: How Parents and Teachers Can Understand the Whole Child

    by LearnEd

    Man and woman looking into a phone

    "Too few students graduate from high school with habits that prepare them for college," says Matt Gaertner, a learning PhD at Pearson who specializes in college access, college admissions, and college success." Graduating from high school is an important goal, but it shouldn't be the ultimate goal."

    Matt says traditional reliance on academic achievement and standardized test scores to indicate college readiness in the final years of high school is part of the challenge. "These tests are delivered so late in high school," he says. "There's often no time to correct learning gaps and get students back on track."

    Matt and his colleagues are developing ways to measure readiness in ways that are both more precise and available to parents and teachers long before a student's junior or senior year in high school.

    The alternative approach to assessing college readiness, Matt says, involves combining academic achievement with five more categories of learning:

    • Motivation, or grit. Is the student achieving beyond their ability? Does the student believe she has control over her success?
    • Behavior. This category encompasses absences, discipline referrals, or suspensions.
    • Social engagement. Is the student involved in activities after school?
    • Family circumstances. Are family members involved in the learning process? This also takes in to account parent education levels and income.
    • School characteristics. This category encompasses community-related factors like crime rates and poverty rates.

    Matt says a combined index of these categories is a much more accurate indicator of college readiness. "It's the whole student," he says.

    This new index has bPearson Motivation Behavioreen tested against a massive Department of Education study that followed a national cohort of 8th graders over the course of 12 years. Of the around 500,000 students in the study who did not attend post secondary school of any kind, 90-percent of them would have been flagged by the index—in 8th grade.

    What's more, the index shows that motivation and behavior combined have more impact on a student's readiness than academic achievement. "People often think it's all about test scores," Matt says. "That's not true."

    Matt says all of this is good news for parents. "We can get very good, very useful diagnoses about your kid's progress towards important goals much earlier than we ever thought we could," he says.

    Matt and his colleagues are already working with school systems on a tool to get their index in the hands of teachers and parents -- to flag learning gaps in students before it's too late.

    Pearson Whole Child Tips

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  • A New Way To Boost High School Graduation Rates

    by LearnEd

    Graduated students in the sunset

    Don Kilburn
    President, North America, Pearson

    Education is unquestionably the foundation of a brighter future, and graduating from high school the most fundamental step toward good employment and further education. For that reason, boosting graduation rates throughout America, and particularly among underserved student populations, is an essential piece of building a more just and fair economy and society, with more opportunities for all.

    President Obama has stated a goal of achieving 90% high school graduation rates by 2020, and Pearson is proud to support that goal. We put the learner at the heart of everything we do, and believe strongly in advancing the cause of opportunity for all students.

    In June, we announced the GradNation State Activation initiative in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance. This partnership aims to support and scale multi-year, cross-sector efforts at the state and local levels to make measurable impact on graduation rates.

    We’re delighted to announce three state organizations that will each receive a $200,000 grant to support their work towards these goals.

    • The Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable engages with mayors in 16 cities across the state through the Arizona Activation Initiative, in collaboration with WestEd and other state partners
    • The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education focuses on students whose first language is not English
    • The Minnesota Alliance With Youth, which supports GradMinnesota, a statewide initiative to increase the graduation rate, focusing on students of color, low-income students, English language leaners and students with disabilities.

    An independent panel selected the grantees from a group of 41 applicants from 26 states. The panel, consisting of respected leaders in the education and youth development community, including Building a Grad Nation report co-author John Bridgeland, president and CEO, Civic Enterprises; former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education;  Karen Pittman, co-founder, president and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment;  and 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples.

    We congratulate the grantees, and wish them the best in the work to come. We’re looking forward to working with you, supporting you and celebrating the progress you will make in the years ahead.

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John Fallon

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