If you are the parent of a student in Levels 3 through 8, you are aware that students are participating in standardized testing this week and next. At Turning Point, we utilize the CTP (Comprehensive Testing Program) which is designed by the ERB (Educational Testing Bureau)—a non-profit educational service organization that provides standardized testing to both public and independent schools. Almost all our peer schools in the California Association of Independent Schools administer the CTP as a point of reference for curricula, and use the results to assess the learning and comprehension of students both individually and as a group.
Just hearing the word “test” can quicken our pulses and dry our mouths. At Turning Point, we use a variety of ways to truly understand and assess student mastery. Knowledge is complex, and exhibiting mastery is best revealed in ways that honor its complexity. Multiple choice answers have their place, but provide a limited analysis. Understanding the history and purpose of standardized testing as it relates to a much larger, more comprehensive process of assessment can help address questions and assuage anxiety.
Part of what makes tests such as the CTP “standardized” is that they use consistent procedures for how the test is administered and scored. This ensures that results from different students are comparable; consequently, these tests offer educators a common benchmark. Educators use the results as one data point to analyze individual curricular decisions and to help create a picture of students’ abilities and skills, identifying areas where a student has untapped gifts or needs more support.
The CTP tests include a reasoning assessment and an achievement assessment in language arts and mathematics. It is very helpful to have these benchmarks as a small part of what we use to make determinations about how our children will succeed as learners. However, what standardized tests do not measure are qualities such as creativity, emotional intelligence, tenacity, grit, resilience, and effort. As Turning Point educators, we see these skills and qualities linked to success as much as we do academic achievement; observations that are backed by scientific research.
The CTP’s test results showcase a child’s development over time and help us identify areas of strength and challenge. But they are only a snapshot; in other words, we understand that many variables can affect a student’s performance on a test. We responsibly look at the test in conjunction with other performance indicators, such as formative, on-going assessments, and summative assessments for mastery.
We always want to keep in mind that independent school students who take the test are the top 20% when compared to national norms. When compared with other independent school students, the scores can be lower. A 50% score on a CTP test, compared with independent school scores, means that the student scored higher than half of the independent school students, the 20% of all students nationally who take the test. We also know that students in elementary and middle school have less experience with timed tests because teachers are looking for mastery, not speed. True mastery takes time to accomplish and to demonstrate, and our teachers know this.
In the end, while we all know the limitations of standardized testing, for practical purposes we know these scores will be part of your child’s application to high school. Families want students to do well on these tests, as they are one area that we can seemingly control. We are also conditioned to believe that smart people do well on multiple choice tests—and, indeed, some smart people do shine on these tests—but there are multiple ways to express knowledge and plenty of “smart” people will never do as well with multiple choice as they will a more subjective assessment.
There are multiple ways to be intelligent and to demonstrate one’s acquisition of knowledge. Good schools know this and will want to learn about your individual, unique child. They desire a broad view of each child’s potential and performance, and seek nuance as a means to know each student individually. And isn’t that what we all hope for our children? To find a school that wants to know them, honor their unique learning styles, and help them to continue developing into their best true selves.
Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School