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Student Self-Portraits as Test-Takers: continued

That sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, this line of reasoning reflects a very narrow view of motivational theory. Wheelock, Bebell, and Haney consider motivation of test takers to be of paramount importance.


In this paper we consider students' reactions to testing in light of differences in students' grade level and schooling experiences and reflect on how the MCAS [the Commonwealth's high-stakes test] drawings challenge policy makers' assumptions about testing, especially the impact of high stakes on student motivation. (Page 1)

This paper reports only on Massachusetts students and their high stakes examination. However, I suspect you’ll find a high degree of correlation between Massachusetts students and the ones seated in your classrooms.

The format of the study reported by the authors is simple. Students in fourth, eighth, and tenth grade were asked to draw pictures of themselves taking the MCAS. Drawings were coded by the researchers. The authors comment that their coding system failed to allow for levels of intensity. "For example, the word ‘angry’ used in our coding does not adequately convey students' feelings more accurately described as ‘seething,’ ‘pissed off’ or ‘defiant.’" (Page 2) Also, some students linked ideas together. For example, they linked being bored while taking the test with the idea that the whole testing process was "stupid." Such links were not adequately reflected in the coding.


These feelings and beliefs as expressed in the drawings call into question a number of assumptions about high stakes testing in [insert your state name here], for example, that scores always accurately reflect students' accomplishments and that consequencesattached to their scores will motivate students in a consistent manner. (Page 2)


What does high stakes testing demonstrate about student knowledge? The answer to this question should be that it measures what a student knows about a given subject. However, Haney & Scott concluded in a 1987 study


What it is that a test item measures (that is, its content validity) depends not on what adult experts or critics think it measures nor onwhat item statistics suggest about the item but rather on how individual test-takers perceive and react to the test or item.... To delve into what it is that a test or test item measures for particular test-takers requires some kind of observation or communication with them on anindividual basis. (Page 3)

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