Under pain of death… or something like that… teachers under no circumstances are to help students while they take high-stakes final assessments. 

Makes sense. It’s an effort to ‘level the playing field,’ so one student doesn’t receive more information than another, so the measurement of a student’s ability level and whether their meeting standards or obtaining skills is truly a measurement of the student’s knowledge and not the teacher’s. 

But what if… 

The students taking the test suffer from test anxiety when there are many questions beyond their ability level. Surely, they would need a teacher’s help. Computer Adaptive Testing solves that issue by generating passages based on individual student responses. Therefore, the assessment gauges each individual student’s mastery of skills and standards, challenging them without increasing their stress level. 

But what if… 

The assessment is for students with significant cognitive disabilities? Surely, they would need a teacher’s help. With permission from publishers, some assessment creators have modified texts in readability, sentence length, and passage length to meet the needs of this population. Therefore, these students were exposed to the same high-quality passages with the depth of ideas and information that other students read on their assessments.  

But what if… 

Student A doesn’t relate to a passage as well as Student B? Wouldn’t that give Student B an advantage? Or worse, what if Student A doesn’t have the knowledge base to be able to understand the text? Surely, they would need a teacher’s help.  

On one high-stakes final assessment, less than a decade ago, there was a story about a young boy, around age 12, away on a ski trip with his family. This would be a great excerpt of fiction for an eighth-grade student to read about. Right? Most every eighth-grade student is currently or was once 12. Most every eighth-grade student can relate in some way to spending time with family. The boy’s ethnicity and socioeconomic background is never mentioned, helping to universalize the story (though skiing in the U.S. is not an activity typically associated with a particularly diverse cross-section of Americans). Not everyone identifies as a boy, but if you were to replace this gender with any other, the story would still make sense. Even skiing as a concept is a relatively simple activity to grasp. So, the picker of this passage did their job well. Right? 

Although he read below grade level, one of my former students did extremely well when answering questions regarding this passage. He’s a boy who frequently went on ski trips with his family. Another one of my students who read well above grade level, I’ll call him Darren, frequently went on trips around the world with his family and understood the concept of skiing, but he still asked for my help. 

“What’s a chairlift?” Darren asked me. In the passage, a chairlift was never explained, but in order to answer the question correctly, Darren needed to know what a chairlift was. This dilemma is certainly not unique to me. I’m certain every teacher who has ever administered a high-stakes final assessment has encountered their own ‘chairlift question’ from a student.  

Assessment providers have an extremely difficult job when it comes to passage picking. They must determine what would be most ‘appropriate’ based on several criteria, like comprehension difficulty, reading ability, and how well a passage supports specific standards. And they are working toward incorporating passages that are ‘appropriate’ across socio-economic status, gender, culture, ethnicity, and faith to relate to and reflect on as many people as possible. I do not envy their task. 

So, what if…  

Students could actually choose which passage they would read on an assessment? 

My colleague Andrew Campana and I are more than willing to discuss the great advancements in student assessment, the ongoing possibilities in student assessment, and how our licensing solution can support your efforts. 

The Annual Copyright License for Student Assessments (ACLSA) saves hours of time you might otherwise spend clearing one-off copyright permissions from multiple publishers. The license provides broad coverage across a wide variety of leading publishers to use excerpts from their works in your K-12 adaptive, formative, interim, summative, and through-year assessments, as well as item banks, and pre- and post-test materials.