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Education Reporter
Assessment vs. Achievement Tests

by Eleanor G. Campbell          
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Americans have become so inundated with new concepts and new words that we often use them without being aware that, while we weren't listening, the meanings changed. "Assessment" is one of these words. We've come to use it casually, believing that it still means the same thing as an achievement test. But what is an "assessment test" and how does it compare to an "achievement test"?

Almost all adults have taken an Iowa Basic Skills Test or California Achievement Test (CAT). We remember the true/false questions, the multiple-choice questions, the grammar and math problems. Such achievement tests measure academic knowledge. They are cognitive (academic) tests that hold students, teachers and schools accountable. Achievement tests measure what a student should know in comparison to other students at the same grade level. They are "norm referenced" against a body of knowledge that should be common to each child in a particular grade.

Because achievement tests are measured against a standard body of knowledge, they can be used to compare the level of knowledge among individual students, entire classes and schools, and among the states. They can be used to compare the rise and fall of educational achievement from year to year. These cognitive tests have shown a great decline in scores over the past 20-plus years, which has caused Americans to question the quality of public education. Some have blamed everything from the lack of funds to administrative problems to broken homes, poverty, absent fathers, and single parenting, for the drop in test scores. While we were pondering these important but peripheral culprits, the educational establishment (educrats) changed the game plan.

The educrats concluded that "traditional" education was too "content laden," that is, based on learning specific amounts of material in measured amounts of "seat time." Meanwhile, in the educrats' opinion, many students were struggling with low self esteem and other social problems brought on by society (primarily parents). The educrats determined that the mission of the school is not to educate, but to help students with problems that they view as having been thrust upon the school by society, failing to realize that no one asked them to assume such a burden. Their goal shifted from teaching academics to the affective area (values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors). Teachers became coaches or facilitators (of change).

In the process, the ability to measure and compare results has been greatly diminished, and educational accountability has been made difficult, if not impossible. Without accountability, no finger pointing can occur, and the taxpayer/parent can no longer discern what, if anything, his child is learning or who is at fault if the child fails. It seems that the whole restructuring program is designed to obfuscate both learning and accountability, while our society is being transformed without our knowledge, permission, or willing cooperation.

The affective area has little to do with learning and everything to do with attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors. It is social engineering in the classroom - therapy, and even brainwashing - for "political correctness." It is about "critical thinking," the criticism of absolute, time-honored values. It is about self esteem - not earned self esteem, but thinking well of oneself regardless of one's performance. It is about "cooperative learning" (group thought and consensus), "politically-correct" decision making, being a "good listener" (hearing and agreeing with whatever is presented), and being a "good communicator" (having learned to advance the programmed propaganda that has been taught).

All these things cannot be measured by "old fashioned" achievement tests, hence the development of the new educational measuring instrument, the assessment! Assessments are designed to measure changes in attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors. Each state must create its own assessment - an expensive procedure required by Goals 2000 - in order to prove that the state is meeting the goals of its restructuring plan. That plan must meet federal goals and requirements because funding and approval depend on those results.

Assessment tests are designed to find out whether a child is "inwardly" influenced or controlled. That is, does the child have a strong central core of values, or is he externally controlled by peers, teachers, trends, fads, etc.? For purposes of achieving behavior modification, it is best if the "learner" is strongly influenced by externals. The test results are used to redirect the influences that affect the child's ability to respond "correctly." Orwellian? Yes, and it's happening now.

If concerned parents and citizens would look at the "outcomes" contained in every local or state educational restructuring program, they would realize that they are basically identical. These outcomes are all primarily aimed at the affective area - attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors, which can't be measured. Therefore, assessments are used to measure the behavioral changes of outcome-based education. They tell the therapist/teacher/facilitator whether the student has absorbed the bits of conditioning material fed to him. A student or class does not move on until all the pupils have shown - by assessment - that they have achieved the right amount of conditioning. This process requires hundreds of individual assessments by the facilitator during the course of a school year. The close monitoring of each student is what Goals 2000 advocates mean when they assert that "every child can learn."

Computers are excellent tools for this conditioning, as they can tirelessly repeat the same material. This is one of the real reasons for the rush to place computer technology in the classroom at ever-earlier ages, and to ensure that every child has access to them. Some schools require that kids not only use computers in class, but at home as well, even to the point of providing a computer to the family who cannot afford one. Such is the desire to instill the conditioned responses that are necessary for students to do well on the assessment tests.

The assessments are not norm-referenced, as are achievement tests. Assessments do not test a given body of knowledge at a given stage in a pupil's schooling. Instead, they are "criterion referenced," with the criteria being a set of behavioral outcomes and the processes used to attain those outcomes. Since they are presented in different ways to different classrooms of students who "learn" in different ways, comparisons become impossible. Accountability disappears along with comparability.

We could look at examples of assessments from many different parts of the country, but one of the most well-documented is from Pennsylvania. Called the Educational Quality Assessment (EQA), it was eventually declared improper for the state's students by the federal government. However, rather than scrap the test, the educrats merely changed its name, and it is still in use. (See documentation in Educating for the New World Order by Beverly Eakman.)

The EQA covers Self Esteem, Citizenship, Tolerance or Understanding Others, the World of Work and Work Attitudes, Flexibility or Coping with Change, Health Habits, Values Placed on Learning and Human Accomplishments, and Interest in Creative Activities. Here are a few examples of questions in various categories.

True or False:

"I often wish I were someone else."

"I'm made to feel no good by my teacher."

"I get upset easily at home."

"I have a low opinion of myself."

"I feel as though my parents are pushing me."

"I don't receive much attention at home."

Y(yes) M(might) N(no)

A girl has a term paper due in several days. The book she needs is not permitted to leave the library. If I were this girl, I would sneak the book out of the library when I knew:

a. I would be late with my paper if I couldn't get the book. Y M N

b. I could return it without anyone knowing. Y M N

c. I didn't have enough time to complete my work at the library. Y M N

There is a secret club called the Midnight Artists. They go out late at night and paint funny sayings and pictures on buildings. A student asked me to join the club. In this situation, I would join the club when I knew:

a. My best friend asked me to join.


b. Most of the popular students were in the club. Y M N

c. My parents would ground me if they found out. Y M N

1 of 4 responses describing the student's degree of comfort:

3. A cripple wants to become a close friend.

5. Someone who is much poorer than you wants to come over for dinner.

9. A person of a much different religion from yours wants to tell you about her or his beliefs.

15. The school board decides to bus a group of students of a different race into your school.

Agree, Mostly Agree, Mostly
Disagree, Disagree:

1. The prospect of working most of my adult life depresses me.

3. The only good part of a job is the paycheck.

8. I often wonder why I should try to decide upon a job when the future is so uncertain.

20. I believe in working only as hard as I have to.

24. I doubt that I could keep interested in the same job for more than five to ten years.

A great deal of time, Some time,
Very little time, No time:

I wanted contact lenses to replace my glasses. My parents said I could have them if I kept my room clean for a month. I did it. Then my parents said they couldn't afford the lenses. So I didn't get my contacts. If this happened to you, how much time would you spend on each thing listed below:

1. Being upset.

2. Fighting and arguing with my parents.

3. Trying to understand why my parents couldn't get me the contacts.

4. Learning to like my regular glasses more.

5. Trying to get back at my parents.

Someone in my class took a sharp object and carved a word in my desk. The teacher saw it and made me stay after school. I said I didn't do it, but the teacher wouldn't believe me. If this happened to you, how much time would you spend on each thing listed below:

6. Being upset.

7. Finding people who would say I didn't do it.

8. Trying to get back at the teacher for not believing me.

9. Trying to understand the teacher's point of view.

10. Trying to get back at the person who did it.

Select one of the following -
Yes, Maybe, No:

Morton is at a party with his friends. They pass around a marijuana cigarette and start to smoke it. If I were Morton, I would stay at the party when I knew. . .

22. No one else wanted to leave.

23. They would not make me smoke if I stayed.

24. They would let me stay only if I smoked.

The Bettendorf Survey is another example of the type of nosy questionnaires that are being used as models for assessments. It asks such questions as:

Do you think the United States was stolen from native Americans or do you think it was rightfully colonized by Europeans?

Do you regard yourself as a bigot?

Do you think homosexuality is a problem society must deal with as strictly as possible?

If you could eliminate an entire race, would you? (List by nationality or religion.)

If yes, which one? (Responses will not be published.)

Which nationality or religion do you think is responsible for the decline of the U.S. economy?

Which nationality or religion do you think is more susceptible to alcoholism?

You can see that, on these assessments, the questions are open ended. Unlike achievement tests, assessment tests cannot be machine scored, and grading them is very subjective. Assessments are often scored by two people who must agree on the value of an individual answer. If they cannot agree, a third person or a panel must determine the value, making the process very expensive.

If your state does not have a law specifically allowing you to preview an assessment test, you may be given only sample questions. Don't expect to receive the actual test questions. The best way to find out about specific questions is to ask your child.

Even when assessments deal with academic questions, the approach is different from that of an achievement test. Since OBE rarely deals with content or facts learned through rote memorization, such as mathematical tables, historical dates, or scientific laws, the content of such tests seeks different answers. The questions explore concepts and applications that indicate how a student thinks or approaches a problem. This is an examination of the "process."

For example, instead of merely solving a math problem involving fractions, the problem might be phrased to require the interpretation of a picture describing the problem, instead of expressing it in absolute terms. The question would not simply be: 1/2 x 1/3 =?. It might express the fractions as portions of a line and the student would have to interpret the concept. In an OBE classroom, this would be practiced as a group problem or discussion (cooperative learning) with no one being sure who had the real answer, until the teacher (coach) would reveal it. History and science are approached in the same way, with problem solving and concepts emphasized rather than facts. What a student "knows" now falls into the area of how he thinks or can apply thinking processes.

In traditional teaching, wide areas of concrete knowledge are conveyed. Achievement tests are designed to measure the degree to which each student has absorbed the tools of learning. The teacher does not "teach to the test"; consequently, students must study the entire course content. The results are readily observable and comparative. Assessment tests avoid both and must be "interpreted."

In OBE, the test determines the curriculum and the facilitator teaches directly to the test. The outcomes, the curriculum, and the assessment must be in complete alignment, as in an assembly line, with the student as the product. OBE assessment tests work back from the outcomes, so that the method of gaining a specific behavior, value, attitude, or belief can be assured. Again, it is the assessments that determine what must be taught, not the local school boards or committees. People "at the top" of the education establishment design today's curricula, making "local control" a thing of the past and school boards an anachronism.

Schools become no longer places for the transmission of the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. They are laboratories for psycho-social experimentation. Your children are the guinea pigs and your tax dollars are paying for the experiments.

Suggested Reading:
Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, various authors, 1995, Conscience Press, P.O. Box 17346, Des Moines, IA 50317-0346.

Back to Basics Reform or Skinnerian International Curriculum, Charlotte Iserbyt, 1985, 1062 Washington St., Bath, ME 04530.

Goals 2000, Kathy Finnegan, 1996, Hearthstone Publishing Ltd., 500 Beacon Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73127.

Pavlov's Children, Ann Wilson, 1994, J.W. Publishing Co., P.O. Box 455, St. Clair, MO 63077-0455.

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