Standardized tests are supposed to objectively show what a learner knows. The theory goes that if all students answer the same test questions, you will get a clear picture of who knows what. But that isn’t how it works in the real world because students aren’t as standardized as the standardized test’s they are taking.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina recently found a link between food stamps and a student’s performance on a math test. Low income families receive food stamps once a month in South Carolina. Right after receiving them, they are able to get enough food on the table to eat well. As the month goes on, however, food becomes scarcer.

Researchers were able to show that students scored higher on math tests that they took soon after their families received food stamps. Their performance sank as their food stamps ran out.

Math tests don’t ask if you’ve had enough to eat.

Assessment that tells you more

If you want to really assess a learner, you have to know more about them. The Learner First’s Authentic Mixed Method Assessment (AMMA) encourages teachers to get to know their students. Teachers use what they know about a student, alongside more traditional measures like grades, to determine their progress and achievement.

Doctors use their professional judgement to diagnose a patient. Similarly, teachers should be empowered to use their professional judgement to synthesize multiple kinds of indicators, both qualitative and quantitative, to assess how a student is doing. But more than that, AMMA helps teachers understand where a student is at and why. AMMA is a process that delves more deeply into what’s going on with each student. The result is a more complete picture that tells teacher what they can do to help a student.

It is assessment that is actionable!

“It’s okay for me to get math!”

One of the elementary schools that worked with The Learner First to implement AMMA saw, firsthand, how this works. When looking over their AMMA data, teachers zeroed in on a girl who was struggling. Although she was very bright, and did well in other subjects, she was having a hard time with math.

Talking to her, her teacher realized that she was intimidated by math. And she felt that, as a girl, math could not be one of her strengths.

Her teacher decided to change this, and consulted a resource that was not on the curriculum, Danica McKellar. McKellar, an actress and math whiz, has written several books that help and encourage girls who are struggling with math.

What was the struggling student’s review of this intervention?

“It’s helping me understand that it’s okay for me to get math!”

Above and beyond is standard practice

There are countless reasons why a student, who is bright and capable, might score a 70 on a math test. The problem is that math test won’t tell you anything about the reasons why.

While it might sound like a teacher would have to really go above and beyond for a student to find out what’s really going on, those kinds of conversations are integrated into AMMA. Rather than a hectic testing week, AMMA asks teachers to gather evidence of student success throughout the year. That includes evidence about how they feel about math, and it includes gathering information about how that student is doing at home.

Standardized testing alone can’t tell us why a student is struggling in math. Nor can it help a teacher discover how to better reach them. AMMA does both. And by asking a student who they are, AMMA also gives us a clearer picture of how much a student really knows.