High Stakes Assessments

In this module, I have been researching into students learning assessments and how it is often measured by tests. More specifically “High Stakes Assessments” such as standardised international, national, or state tests.

  • Currently, in my private school in Thailand, we are expected to be accountable for student lea68mju466rning that is most often measured by standardised international, national, or state tests. These tests are used to co5i8mpare the quality of education country by country, state by state, and school by school. Parents use the results on standardised tests to determine where t7ii56hey should live to ensure their children attend the best schools. In an International school, they adhere to a different set of standards such as ISE (International School Eastern-Seaboard).

There are many examples of school’s assessments, and in this module, I created a map that shows the various types of assessments of what teachers use to determine learning during the school year.

Student Assessments-page-001.jpg

Some examples of High Stakes Assessments for myself would include taking the Praxis Exams. These exams determine whether or not I am qualified to become a teacher and teach in my given domain. For foreign teachers in Thailand however, these usually range between, Bachelor/Masters Degrees, TEFL to TOEFL/TOEIC and IELTS (different certifications of the English language) for adults looking for overseas opportunity.  Examples of these kinds of assessments in my school are the ONET (Thailand’s national tests) which are taken by grade 6 to enter middle school and grade 9 for high school, along with the school’s end of term tests. For ISE, they have MAP tests (Measure of Academic Performance) and the IB exams (International Baccalaureate).

In Thailand, for the two public/private Thai schools I’ve observed have a very heavy emphasis on High Stakes Assessments. These types of assessments are given with the knowledge that important decisions or consequences are riding on the result. “This means they are related to funding, placement, graduation and employment” (Falchikov, N. 2001). Whereas in an International setting like ISE, the main focus appears to be preparing the students for their MAP tests and the IB in their later years. In this blog, I will aim to answer some questions in relation to schools in Thailand and their use of High Stakes Assessments.

1. How much time is spent in testing?
In Thailand, there are four tests included in the ONET tests and in my private school, they take up half the day. These assessments include subjects such as Math, Thai language, Science, Social studies and Foreign Languages (English/Chinese). Each test consists of 1 hour and 30 minutes and they are taken within two school days.
For the end of year tests, for the Thai subjects, the students are tested on Mathematics, Thai Language, Science, Social Studies, Health Education, English Language, Chinese Language and Thai History. Each again, being 1 hour and 30 minutes per test and they are taken within 3 school days (2 full school days and 1 half of school day to be specific).
For the Foreign (English) tests, the students are tested in four subjects including Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and English Language. Each test comprising again of 1 hour and 30 minutes. Like the other tests, they are taken in 2 school days but only half of each day. Generally, so far these tests have been taken from 8:30 am till 12.30pm.
In ISE, the MAP tests are not something students can specifically study for as each concept increases in difficulty as the more the students get correct answers. The test is designed for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and it assesses reading, language usage, math, and, for some grades, general sciences. The test is typically not timed for this but on average a student completes this in 60 minutes. IB exams, on the other hand, are generally between 2-3 hours depending on the subject (IB, 2017).

2. Are teachers teaching to the test?
ONET tests are Thailand’s national test for Grade 6 and 9 students. The Thai teachers teach each subject on average around 2/3 times every week, comprising of around 50 minutes per class. They follow the standards provided by the Ministry of Education in Thailand. However, Thai teachers have stated in the past, it is hard to prepare students for the ONET test as the Basic Core of Education Thailand standards does not prepare students for what kind of questions they will have to answer. Also, the tests are mainly multiple choice items based on reading, comprehension along with a short section for writing.
For the end of term tests, however, these tests are created by each individual subject teacher, Thai and Foreign. Each test must contain a multiple choice section, reading a section, with questions checking for comprehension and a writing section.
The foreign teachers, teach each subject for around 2 times per week, again comprising of around 50 minutes per class.
Since I am the person creating the test for my students, I tend to practice the backwards mapping strategy. By having a test already pre-made and approved by the Foreign and Thai director based on the standards and goals stipulated by the school. I then plan my classes for students to be prepared on not only the topics covered but also the English test language used within the assessment.
In the MAP tests, there is no specific way to prepare for this. As far as I m aware, the teachers teach the American standards and the students participate to show their progression. Whereas in the IB, the style of learning and taking examinations helps prepare students for university. In other words, students in the IB have more free time during the school week, but this time is generally used for researching, studying and creating/experimenting depending on the topics chosen by the student.

3. Are rewards or bonuses given to teachers whose students score high?
Due to the private school’s focus on business, teachers are rewarded by the end of the year with small additions to the salary for good attendances, participation in extracurricular school activities and good student grades. In other government schools, if the students perform well on the test, they do attribute the success to the teacher but in most cases, their continued business is the teacher’s reward.
ISE also is a small private International school, and I believe the teachers don’t get given bonuses if the students score high. However, they may receive bonuses upon self-development, accreditations and additional qualifications.

4. Are students required to pass the test to move to the next grade or graduate?
Schools attached to universities tend to be the most sought after, and students are required to sit for competitive “High Stakes” entrance examinations, is also the case with prestigious private schools like my school and ISE. Admission to most public government schools tends to be open (Clark, 2013).
In Thailand, there is also a “No Fail” policy given out of by the Ministry of Education in Thailand. For more information on policies and regulations of Thai schools, you can view this video on YouTube.

 

The policy states how’s “all learners must pass all the criteria prescribed by the educational institutions” (M.O.E. 2008). In summary, if a student fails a school test, procedures are put in place such as attending summer school or retesting. Therefore, there are many opportunities given to the students to pass before the end of the year, by either being re-tested, be re-assessed/evaluated or by performing other various tasks and assessments. In the end, the student will move on to the next grade after meeting the requirements. Only in rare, special cases, will the student be held back to repeat the year, but generally, when that happens the parents tend to move the child to either another school or a public government school. As for ISE, the school year is running like an American school. Therefore in order for the student to be prepared for their end of year tests etc. it might be possible for the student to be put in the grade before in comparison to a Thai school to only match their knowledge and proficiency level in English reading, writing and speaking.

5. How are students handling increasing pressures to perform?
The Thai students here, don’t necessarily know any different really. They are accustomed to taking rigorous entrance exams for schools along with the end of term tests and test-based progression of learning.  In my private school, they even test as young as Kindergarten 2 although I don’t believe they necessarily feel any “High Stakes” pressure to perform well. However, for Grade 8 and 9 students, there might be some pressure as they get the chance to major in the desired subject depending on their end of year scores.
From a private student I teach from ISE, he’s not necessarily pressured in taking MAP tests but from older students who are participating in the IB, tends to feel a certain amount of pressure to perform as the scores they get matters greatly. Attaining a high score gains better security to the student’s desired university, whether it be in Thailand or abroad.

6. Are test scores used for teacher evaluations?
The Foreign teachers make a note of it but do not base their evaluations on it. However, the Thai teachers and administrators do takes the score results seriously. For example, if a particular student continues to underperform, then procedures are put in place to intervene and monitor the student with the benefit to provide support and improve the student’s performance. There is also more focus and attention to the test scores of an overachieving student. There tends to be more expectation in their test scores to be higher than the average student.

What are the Implications of High Stakes Assessments?
The term “high-stakes” is used to describe tests that create a high pressured atmosphere for each individual students, including school entrance exams, grade promotion or a standard high school diploma (Habeshaw, 1993). Therefore, high-stakes testing is designed to hold individual students accountable for their own test performance (Biggs J 2002).

Some of the advantages of High Stakes Assessment tests are:

The tests ensure inclusive and standardised content that is relevant for all students.
Standardised tests are fair, reliable and objective measure of student ability and achievement (Atkins, et al. (1993).

Thai schools believe that teaching the test can be beneficial as it focuses on essential content.

Standardised testing is necessary in order to benchmark a certain performance and achievement standard set forth by the state (Biggs J 2002).

The data from these tests are often made public to the parents. Therefore, it allows parents to see how well or how poor the school district is performing. It also helps the students get used to working under pressure, building their confidence up for when it comes to other high stakes situations such as a job interview or other tests they will need to take in the future.

Some of the disadvantages are:

It is an unreliable measure of student performance as students can get lucky on a multiple choice exam and fail to reflect that knowledge in real life (Boud, D 1991).

Some of these tests, such as the ONET exams are unfair and discriminatory against non- English speakers and students with special needs. For example, many Thai students who aspire to attend universities or other schools in foreign countries such England or the United States will most likely fail certain sections of the test due to the difficulty of the English language. It is a test designed for native English speakers.
Standardised testing does not measure creativity, critical thinking and other vital skills needed to excel in the workplace. (Bracey G.W. 2000)

Teaching to the test is stifling teacher creativity and its more in favour of rote memorization learning that is done solely for the purposes of passing the test (Race, Phil. 2001).

High stakes testing in some cases causes great anxiety and undue stress on students.
Rigorous testing may teach children to be good at taking tests but does not prepare them for the realities of adult lives (Brown, G, (2001).

Some students are not test takers and as a result, they do not work well under pressure. This means that some students could get scores which don’t truly reflect their understanding or what they are fully capable of.

Conclusion
Although the use of High Stakes Assessments is highly important in Thailand, they are questionable. It’s implementation and usage in public/private school systems is a subject of continuous debate. In my particular private school setting, I believe both Thai and Foreign teachers do their best to help students prepare for the High Stakes Assessment tests that specifically benchmarks English language proficiency and the same sentiment goes towards to the teachers at ISE school.
While most of the foreign teachers and International school teachers might disagree with the practicality of High Stakes Assessments for students, we all conform to the testing norm as best as we can and ensure students are satisfied with the help they receive. As a result, students and parents recommend our schools to others in order to develop its reputation, grow and expand the business.
While I may not agree with the style of the assessments, I conform and comply with the rules and regulations of the Thai education established by the Ministry of Education of Thailand. Even as I help students prepare for their “High-Stakes” tests, I myself will soon have to endure a series of Praxis exams for my teaching license. In my opinion, I believe these tests do not reflect my ability to teach or demonstrate my expertise in the content area of licensure. However, I do believe like many other of my fellow candidates, we are just following standard protocols to obtaining a teaching license. Very much like a driving’s license, where the outcome of the test permits me to drive and a driving license to prove my validity in driving. Thus, students are only having to follow protocols too.

I do sincerely hope to witness a reform in educational testing requirements in the future of Thailand but by acknowledging that these High Stakes Assessments are not the true measurement of one’s ability, I personally think is a good start. I’m not proposing to banish High Stakes Assessments, but given the many various styles of assessments, there are certainly other ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding. As the other assessments are more relatable to their future lifestyle and possible careers.  After all, we are all teachers, passionate about benefiting our students to take part in the 21st Century and in the learning world of tomorrow.

References

Atkins, M., Beattie, J. and Dockrell, B. (1993) Assessment Issues in Higher Education.
Sheffield: Employment Department.

Biggs J (2002) “Aligning teaching and assessment to curriculum objectives”.
http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id477_aligning_teaching_for_constructing_learning.pdf (accessed March 2009)

Boud, D (1991) Implementing student assessment. Higher Education Research and
Development of Association of Australasia, Sydney

Brown, G, (2001), “Assessment: A Guide for Lecturers”,
http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/980.pdf (accessed March 2009)

Bracey, G. W. (2000). Thinking about Tests and Testing: A Short Primer in” Assessment Literacy.”.
Habeshaw, S, et al, (1993), 52 interesting ways to assess your students, Bristol: Tes.

Clark, N. (2013, March 3rd). Education in Thailand. Retrieved January 25th, 2017, from WENR: http://wenr.wes.org/2014/03/education-in-thailand

Falchikov, N. (2001) Peer assessment and peer tutoring. Buckingham: Open University Press
LSTN Generic Centre, “Guide for Busy Academics: Using Learning Outcomes to Design a
Course and Assess Learning”, http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/1013.pdf (accessed March 2009)

IB. (2017). Assessment and Exams. Retrieved January 26th, 2017, from http://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/assessment-and-exams/

ICEF Monitor. (2015, January 20). Retrieved August 23, 2016, fromhttp://monitor.icef.com/2015/01/political-uncertainty-thailand-slows-planned-education-reforms/

ISE. (2017). ISE International School. Retrieved January 25th, 2017, from ISE International School: http://ise.ac.th/

Ministry Of Education. (1992, June 28th). Retrieved from moe.gov.np:http://www.moe.gov.np/assets/uploads/files/2049_English.pdf

Ministry of Education. (2008). The Basic Education Core Curriculum B.E. 2551 (A.D. 2008). Retrieved December 5th, 2016, from act.ac.th:http://www.act.ac.th/document/1741.pdf

Race, Phil. (2001) “A Briefing on Self, Peer and Group Assessment”,
http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/970.pdf (accessed March 2009)

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