Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Does a "Test" Mean to You?

There are all kinds of tests out there that are created for all kinds of reasons, but have you ever wondered what a standardized test looks like through the eyes of a 3rd grade student?

We happen to have that question answered for you as a group of 3rd grade students in Stillwater, Oklahoma recently answered that question after reading a fiction book about standardized testing entitled, "Testing Miss Malarkey" by Judy Finchler and after taking their state-mandated tests. What you will read is their own thoughts and typed just like they were written.

The Giant Test by Sabrina

Papers, pencils, test booklets, and stillness. I’m sick of it. We have been doing this for 4 days now, sitting for an hour after specials. There is one good thing about it and that is that we get a snack and a extra recess every day after the test. Mrs. R. said “We would need to write a story about the test and what it was like.

The Story
Once upon a time there was a class of 18 and their teacher was named Mrs. Poke. She is very grouchy all the time. One day Mrs. Poke said “We will be taking a couple of test.” “Oh no not testes” said Cass. It will be for two weeks and we get five recesses each day! “Five recesses that’s super duper awesome,” said Terry. The day of the test came. Everyone was nervous. Mrs. Poke said “Everyone go to your seats with a pencil. We will start our test.” Fifteen minute’s later, Ivan’s mom walked in. Karla said, “Ivan your mom is here.” Mrs. Poke said, “Karla can I talk to you for a minute? Then Ivan’s mom interupted the test. Mrs. Poke said, “here is a spot for you to take the test with us.” She was not happy. Then the test ended. They enjoyed all their recesses and that was the end of the giant test.

Testing by Anna

The big test has come. It is the biggest test of the year. It makes me feel worried. Nothing, I mean nothing, is worse than the big test. Booklets of work, hard questions, worried students, and most of all the long days of the test. Nobody really likes the test because they think it is really hard, but actually it’s not that hard. After every time you get a section everyday of the test done you get to have snacks, more recess, and less classwork. Even though the test is really really long it’s still fun to do. You still have art and math. Another good thing about the test is when you’re done with it the school year is almost over! If you think about it it is what you have already learned. Also if you pay attention you will think the test is easy. One more thing bad is you have to be really I mean really quiet in the hallways. Not even a whisper! When the test is all over everything is normal. Glad students, no more test booklets, and more work. The end

The test by Mary

‘Hey Mary,’ Brooklyn said. ‘What is it?, said Mary. ‘Did you hear, about the test?’ said Brooklyn. ‘Ya I did hear' said Mary. ‘It’s today’, said Brooklyn.

Chapter 2
“To day is the test. It will take four days to finish” said Mrs. R. Welcome to Mary’s thoughts “What if I fail the test” Mary thinks. That’s all for to day see you next time on Mary’s thoughts. “We will begin now,” said Mrs. R. ‘Ok Mary you can do this, I pick up my penicl. Hey this is not so bad.

The Test by Brooklyn

It was test day and my teacher Mrs. R. is alreddy board. My friend Karla is board also. it wus the wurst day ever. I wus so wored I thrugh up. then the test started. I at Lest passed that time. then we went outside and played for a hour then came back inside and had a snack. The next day I wake up and had scrambled eggs. We went to school and it was my friend terry’s birthday and it wus a test day I bet that wus a bad day for her she wus angry. I don’t blame her. Then the other test started evry one complaned that didn’t want to do the test my mom had to go to the Pta and all they talked about wus the test it wus boring. eny ways why is avey one talking about the test it is like if you don’t take it you will die. the Last day oh well it wusn’t that bad right Karla right well wus it Miss R. no


I think we sometimes forget to examine the thoughts and attitudes of our examinees when we create and/or revise our tests. It's an interesting thought and an excellent reminder from a creative 3rd grade teacher and some observant and creative students! (Thanks to RD as well for the idea for this post!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Learning Environments

I read a thought provoking post written by Eric Shepherd, CEO of Questionmark, on his blog yesterday and had to share it with you. It really makes you evaluate your learning system and where you are headed. Are you ready for the revolution?

Eric Shepherd
June 16, 2009

This year I have been witnessing a change in thinking and common practices around learning environments. I’d like to share my point of view with you because I’m convinced that a significant shift is starting to occur. Let me start by giving a contextual overview in the form of a few tables:

Learning Delivery Systems

Assessment Systems

Tracking Systems

Marketing Hyper vs. IT’s Point of View

The stock market’s exuberance in the late ‘90s generated venture capital funding of learning environments and management systems start ups.This resulted in marketing hype that led to unrealistic expectations. Although vendors tried hard to meet these unrealistic expectations, customers were frustrated and the market was altogether unhappy and unhealthy. This became obvious to me when customers would explain that they were on their third LMS. Clearly things had to change.
One strong benefit that came from the late ‘90s early ‘00s era was the clear separation that was drawn between “management systems” and “content”. SCORM and AICC helped provide us with these clear distinctions, however, we didn’t manage to achieve sufficient distinctions between the key modules of a learning environment as web-services had not matured quickly enough. Consequently, large monolithic systems tended to capture buyers’ imaginations as being the big pill to swallow to solve the learning problem.

From my point of view, IT departments initially pandered to users’ requirements and assisted with the deployment of customized and dedicated learning systems. However, as costs of tightly integrated systems increased and the number of dissatisfied users increased, IT departments started to look at alternative systems and architectures that could both meet the users’ requirements and align with organizations’ overall IT infrastructure. IT started to look at learning from a users and performance perspective and started to apply IT methodologies to the issue.

Users’ requirements varied on one side from structured learning (course based), mostly used in schools, colleges and on-boarding new employees, through to self-service, where a motivated learner sought out the information that they needed in order to perform their tasks or gain qualifications. Deploying only one learning methodology (course based vs. self-service) does not fit all requirements. Knowing the context of the user is key to providing a great user experience!

So what are we seeing now?

Authentication and Single Sign On (“SSO”) Portals

Learning materials, documents and content live in many systems. The issue is access control to these systems for the right person at the right time. This motivates a need for federated searches of multiple content repositories and to mashed up user interfaces that allow users to view multiple systems.

As I have illustrated above, you can now provide access to multiple applications with a common look and feel using a portal such Microsoft’s SharePoint. Each application is “skinned” by the portal’s feel and is presented in a “portlet”. Depending on the user’s privileges they can add, change, delete, and move around portlets to suit their working style and job role.
Behind the portal sits a number of systems that a user will use to perform their tasks.

The portal looks after two important functions:

Authentication of the User
This is usually performed by way of user names and passwords but could also be achieved via biometrics.

Access Control (Privileges)
To limit access to the portlets that a user can actually see and use.

We have to be careful that we don’t return to dispersed SSO portals with one portal for learning, one for accounting, etc.; that would give us Multiple Sign On Portals which would be a retrograde step.

True Single Sign On Portals provide IT departments with a single but centralized access control system and allow the user to define their portal to accommodate their style of working.


Each application has its own unique set of privileges that would become difficult for a centralized IT team to control. For instance, in the context of testing, we might only allow users to take a test between certain hours and maybe require a proctor/invigilator. Whilst it would be possible for all of these user privileges to be stored more centrally and associated with the portal, this becomes impractical and slows the upgrade process. However, it is common for application systems to receive data from the portal and then derive privileges based on the user’s associations.

Islands of Data

The challenge with this architecture is that each application maintains its own databases for its operational needs such as storing course evaluation data and tests results.

We are seeing leading edge employers look at employee life cycle data in order to improve their talent management systems and processes. From recruiting to on-boarding, appraisals, formal/structured learning, informal learning, career progression, and exit interviews we see present and future requirements for viewing and correlating data from multiple courses to help people understand the dynamics of their talent.

So learning environments are now being built in such a way that their data is consumable by web-services and a data warehouse.

Data Warehouses

Organizations maintain Data Warehouses (DWs) for several reasons:
* DWs can be structured to quickly access data for reporting applications to consume rather than focus on efficiently collecting and maintaining data.
* DWs allow for data to be connected and correlated despite the fact that they are generated by different systems potentially using different types of databases.
* DWs can insulate reporting systems from application upgrades which would otherwise necessitate reporting systems to be updated at the same time that the application upgrade is performed.

Wikis and Blogs

Wikis and blogs have become very important and popular tools for harvesting knowledge from subject matter experts (SMEs). With succession planning being important for many organizations that have aging work forces, harvesting knowledge from SMEs is a key initiative.


When we combine IT department support for standardization on portals, wikis, blogs, data warehouses and reporting systems we can see that the time is right for a revolution within our learning environments.

The data and anecdotal evidence that I have access to makes me believe that learning environments will change and become more aligned with standard and supported IT systems.

We are now in an era where resonating with IT, their requirements, and their systems, will assist us in rapidly deploying powerful, integrated, and scalable environments for our learners, and performers.

Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)
A case for the training portal
MLE to PLE – A Framework For Considering Systems
Consolidate & Centralize Your Learning Technologies
The first rule of Windows Marketplace for Mobile is that you don’t subvert

About Eric Shepherd
Eric Shepherd is the CEO of Questionmark and has dedicated over twenty years to studying and understanding the use of tests and assessments. He is also an active member of the Association of Test Publishers, and serves as chair of that organization’s European division.

Eric has been very involved in the IMS Learning Consortium’s Question and Test Interoperability standard, the Association of Test Publishers (ATP), TechLearn, the eLearning Guild, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), the UK Computer Aided Assessment Conference, (CAA), TechLearn, eLearning Brasil, Online Educa Berlin, and many other activities.

He is passionate about establishing effective deployment of online assessments. Through workshops around the world, white papers and dialogue he constantly challenges himself and those around him to push boundaries on secure assessment technology and on the role assessments play in the learning process.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

PhotoFiltre - Free Photo Editing and Effects

Have any plans for those summer vacation photos or photos from the previous school year?

Take a look at PhotoFiltre. It's freeware and I have looked at a couple of different sites and all I can find are rave reviews. Did I mention that it is FREE (you probably know by now what that means to me)!!! Take a look at the review on SnapFiles:

Photo Editing and Effects
Our Rating: (Excellent)

PhotoFiltre is a complete image editing and effects package, that will not only amaze you with features but also the fact that it is free (for personal use). It comes with many features that rival some commercial packages, as well as additional add-on that can be downloaded from the web site. PhotoFiltre offers all the standard editing features (selection, clone brush, paint brush etc.) as well as a large selection of image effects, photo masks, image adjustments, thumbnail browser and much more. The program also supports batch processing to apply filters, sizing, adjustments and transformations to a large number of images at once. PhotoFiltre comes with modern, well designed interface and is well suited for everything from simple resizing to advanced photo editing.

Pros: Great editing features; easy-to-use; fast loading
Cons: Does not support layers; no support for Photoshop filters Freeware

Also take a look at the reader's comments.

Update: I'm still trying to talk my kids into several vacation options, i.e. a trip down the virtual highway in New Zealand, or another virtual trip, but they aren't buying into my "technologically advanced" ideas. I think I'll pull out my copy of Touring Oklahoma and let them decide on a few local trips this summer. They will have input and learn something as they research the possibilities. Nothing like a little inadvertent learning...just don't tell them!

Thanks to Patricia H. for the info on PhotoFiltre!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Great Resources for Staff Development

I recently received an email from a blog subscriber that I wanted to share with everyone:

"I had the good fortune to recently attend the Student Equity and Access Professional Development Conference in Baton Rouge and wanted to let my colleagues know about two great resources for staff development. The first is a keynote speaker on working with students and families in poverty. It was sobering to hear Dr. Donna Beegle talk about growing up in poverty and the challenges many people, young and old, wake up to every day. Her message is that as educators we need talk about and better understand how poverty impacts learning and utilize strategies that work to help all students succeed in the classroom and in life. Dr. Beegle suggests that everyone should take Poverty 101 because our perception is not their reality. Go to her website, Communication Across Barriers, at http://www.combarriers.com/ to learn more.

The second great resource I learned about for staff development is Taking the Road Less Traveled II. The presenter, Jane Huston, talked about barriers that were keeping students from choosing a nontraditional career pathway and pursuing a nontraditional job, and suggested that stronger communication with our students, parents and community leaders about the opportunities and benefits of a nontraditional career is key. She also recommended that our district and state plans include more emphasis on career exploration in early education. The feature on the CD toolkit that I really like is how easy it is to access all the resources within the toolkit by simply clicking on a button. For instance, if you choose to view the modules on your computer, you can click on numerous links that have been provided to take you to sights with additional information, video shows, games, and lessons. They have also included PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and brochure templates that can be customized for your school. MAVCC has more information on the CD toolkit at their website, http://www.mavcc.com/ . I went there and was surprised to see how many resources they have available for CTE."

I hope you will take the time to research both of these sites. They are excellent resources for your programs. Also, I think I need to get out of my office so I can find more great resources for you! It looks like I missed a great conference!!! J.T.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who Else Wants Money for Passing a Test?

Is money the key to testing sucess? I'm sure my kids would like money for passing their achievement tests, but would they work more if they could make up to $500.00? Would it provide healthy competition among their peers? Would their increased study habits be sustainable over time? Would they use their money on a new iPhone, save it for college, or even buy their dad a Christmas present? (My guess for my own kids would be the iPhone...but I'm always optimistic!) Low income students may have definite needs for the added income, i.e. school supplies, shoes, dinner, etc.

Or is education truly an intrinsic value? Will money for performance decrease our appreciation of something that should be treasured? Can the money for performance develop a "value" for education that possibly wasn't there before? Does this concept run parallel to our capitalistic society?

New York City Public Schools, the Dallas (TX) Independent School District, and a few others are offering cash incentives for their students to pass Advanced Placement and/or other mandated tests. The New York Post had a recent article entitled, "Learn-&-Earn Plan Pays Off: Scores Soar at Cash-for-Kids Schools" by Kelly Magee and Yoav Gonen that discusses the success of the pay for performance program. Many instructors are also offered an incentive for class performance on mandated tests. Is this an effective program for them as well? (Check out an article discussing the pros and cons, "Should We Pay Students for Good Test Scores? ")

The primary argument that I see in this discussion is incentives vs. the intrinsic value of education. I can truly see both sides of the argument and I hope you will let us know your thoughts on this topic.

I have one last thought for the day. I have long wondered about addressing teacher pay and there is a new program in New York that is paying teachers $125,000.00 per year and they will also be eligible for bonuses, based on school-wide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year.

The school, called the Equity Project, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers — and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size — are the critical ingredient for success. Experts hope it could offer a window into some of the most pressing and elusive questions in education: Is a collection of superb teachers enough to make a great school?

The school’s founder, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, 32, a Yale graduate who founded a test prep company, has been grappling with just these issues. Check out the New York Times article, "Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers," for the rest of the story.

As always, let us know your thoughts! J.T.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Encyclopedia of Life

I know this doesn't have much to do with testing, but when you find a cool site, you have to share it.....don't you??? JT

According to the website, "The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is an ambitious, even audacious project to organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on Earth. At its heart lies a series of Web sites—one for each of the approximately 1.8 million known species—that provide the entry points to this vast array of knowledge. The entry-point for each site is a species page suitable for the general public, but with several linked pages aimed at more specialized users. The sites sparkle with text and images that are enticing to everyone, as well as providing deep links to specific data.

The EOL dynamically synthesizes biodiversity knowledge about all known species, including their taxonomy, geographic distribution, collections, genetics, evolutionary history, morphology, behavior, ecological relationships, and importance for human well being, and distribute this information through the Internet. It serves as a primary resource for a wide audience that includes scientists, natural resource managers, conservationists, teachers, and students around the world. We believe that the EOL's encompassing scope and innovation will have a major global impact in facilitating biodiversity research, conservation, and education.

The EOL staff is made up of scientists and non-scientists working from museums and research institutions around the world. We currently have 20 full time employees, but as this project grows, so will the EOL family."

Thanks to JLa for sharing the site!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

PBS Video

Thanks to the Librarian's Internet Index, I just found out that you can "watch your favorite Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) shows and catch the episodes you may have missed, all on your schedule." Browse episodes by PBS program or by topics such as culture and science. Also under the "Topics" tag are current events collections such as "Flu Outbreak," "The Presidents," and "Going Places." The site also includes links to PBS videos for children and podcasts.

Try PBS Video. They have some great resources! J.T.
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