64.  SAT9 Testing – How long will it take students to reach the 50%? How can classroom tests be modified for students?

"Standardized" tests are tests that measure the performance of any one student against the performance of thousands of other students at the same grade level or at a certain point in their educational experience. Standardized tests do not measure exactly what the students have learned as the direct result of the instructional program offered by their schools. The results of standardized testing do NOT reflect the teaching-and-learning that took place in the instructional program in which any of the tested student was enrolled.

ALL standardized tests aim at separating students into "those who know" and "those who do not know" whatever the test measures. ALL standardized tests are designed to make sure that 50% of the students taking the test pass the test, and the other 50% fail the test. Even if ALL students taking a 100-question-standardized test score between 95 and 100 points in the test, 50% of those students will be designated failures.

The top 25% --the highest scoring-- students taking a standardized test must answer correctly most often the questions in the test. The bottom 25% --the lowest scoring-- students taking the same standardized test must answer INCORRECTLY most often the question in the test. Each question in a standardized test, then, must be carefully written and re-written until the desired "discriminatory" power of each question is obtained. To "discriminate" or separate high- from low-scoring students, the questions are made ambiguous, or highly unusual vocabulary is used in the question, or the test question may deal with some esoteric concept. STANDARDIZED TESTS DO NOT REFLECT WHAT STUDENTS LEARN IN SCHOOL as a result of instruction.

Students from high socioeconomic backgrounds, who are exposed to many ADDITIONAL educational opportunities at home, after school hours, on weekends and during extended vacation periods, tend to do very well in standardized tests. In ALL standardized testing, the socioeconomic status of the parents is the greatest predictor of high scores in the test. Poor students, very limited in receiving extended educational opportunities in the home, after school hours, on weekends and during extended vacation periods, tend to do very poorly in standardized tests.

So, how long will it take for poor students (predominantly students of color, students who do not have fluency in English) to reach 50% correct in standardized tests? It will take as long as the community that supports a school system takes to meet its commitment to quality education for ALL its students, before, during, and after school hours, on weekends and during extended vacation periods. When ALL students in a particular community, rich and poor, have access to the same educational opportunities, then ALL students in that community will score in the top 50% of all scores from all communities participating in the test. "The same educational opportunities" refer to the same quality in-school educational program plus, before- and after-school tutoring, and additional educational activities and opportunities on weekends and during vacation times.

How can classroom tests be modified for students? In my replies to other questions I have provided many examples of how paper-and-pencil-tests can –and should—be modified to ascertain how much classroom instruction ALL students in the class have mastered. Here is a summary of many of these ideas:

  1. Asking the SAME question at four different levels of LANGUAGE difficulty.
  2. When designing paper-and-pencil tests, teacher must make the effort to provide test questions that can be answered by students of ALL English language proficiencies in the class. For example, the question,
    "How are Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez similar?"
    can be rephrased in three other ways to provide opportunities to less English-fluent students to answer the question correctly.
    The question can –and should-- be asked in four different ways in the same test:

    "How are Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez similar?"

    One similarity between Benito Juárez and Abraham Lincoln is that:

  1. Both faced difficult decisions concerning the rights and the freedom of their countrymen and women.
  2. Both dealt with civil wars in their respective countries.
  3. Both spoke at least two languages fluently.

"Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez were similar because:

  1. They were both religious leaders, both Christian leaders.
  2. They were both Native Americans, one born in Mexico and the other in the wilderness of the United States frontier.
  3. They were both presidents of their respective countries, the United States and Mexico.

"Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez both had the same profession –lawyers-- and came from very poor families, right? YES / NO

Any student who answers correctly ALL four, or any one of the four questions has demonstrated mastery of the key concept: similarity between two historical figures. Less English-fluent students who answer one, two, three or all four of the questions should receive full credit for their answers. The questions need NOT appear in the test in order or sequence, as shown above, but can be interspersed with other questions and other rephrased questions throughout the test. The teacher gives points for answering correctly any one of the four rephrased questions on a concept or key idea. The teacher can give bonuses for answering more than one of the four questions; for example, the student can "cash-in" a bonus for a homework assignment turned-in late.

    2.    Using visual stimuli and listening skills.

One of the BEST ways to insure that ALL students (except, perhaps, totally blind students) are provided test questions that truly ascertain mastery of the content area concepts and key ideas, is:

To include plenty of visual stimuli (pictures, posters, realia, manipulatives, etc.) as part of the test questions and to provide oral stimuli for students to listen to and respond in a way that does NOT involve oral or written language. This type of testing can be done in many ways.

  1. Teacher can display many pictures on the board or throughout the classroom. These pictures, numbered, provide the visual stimuli for each of the corresponding numbered questions. The teacher can then state or read a brief sentence, a paragraph, or a longer oral passage. Students respond by circling or writing YES / NO, TRUE / FALSE, CORRECT / INCORRECT, or AGREE / DISAGREE.
  2. Teacher can display pictures on the board, labeled alphabetically. Then the teacher can read or state brief statements about the pictures, referring to the pictures in random order. For each statement, students write the corresponding alphabet letter next to the numbered statement provided orally by the teacher. Teacher can refer to the same alphabetically labeled picture more than once, and need not refer to ALL displayed pictures.
  3. Teacher can provide sequences of two, three, four or more pictures, labeled (a) / (b) / (c) / (d) / (e), etc., and make a single statement referring only to one of the displayed pictures. Students write the letter of the pictured referred to.
  4. Teacher can set up "testing stations" (usually as many or more "testing stations" as students in the class). In these "testing stations" students observe a visual representation of a key concept or key idea, read or listen to a brief statement, provide a brief answer or select the correct answer, and then move on, every two-minutes or so, to another "testing station."

   3.   Using visual stimuli –pictures or posters, realia, manipulatives, or posters/flash cards with written words or phrases-- and written vocabulary, or brief reading selections.
Active testing situations –testing involving standing, walking, forming groups, choosing sides, etc., allow less English fluent students to exhibit their knowledge in a non-verbal form. For example,

  1. Teacher distributes flash cards with key vocabulary words. Students sign their names on the back of each flash card for grading purposes. The teacher can then post throughout the classroom "definition stations," that is, posters with brief definitions of the key vocabulary words. (Or the teacher can post synonyms, or antonyms, or words or phrases associated in meaning with the key vocabulary words, etc.) Students read their vocabulary words written in their assigned flash cards, read the posted definitions, and walk to each posted definition, leaving their flash card in an envelop provided under the definition. At the end of the test the teacher can tell who knows what the words mean, who knows the key concepts in the material tested. This type of test can be used for ALL content areas, including math, science, music, physical education, etc.
  2. Teacher can use a similar testing activity, as shown above, sharing "definitions" and posting the key vocabulary words.
  3. Teacher can display numbered lists of words or brief sentences, all referring to a key concept or idea. Throughout the classroom, pictures or posters, realia or
  4. manipulatives, labeled alphabetically, can be displayed. Students match each list to the corresponding visuals.
  5. Teacher gives vocabulary flash cards to half of the class. Teacher gives definition flash cards to the other half of the class. Students sign their names in the back of each card. Silently, students get together in pairs, matching each vocabulary word and its definition. Students turn in their flash cards for grading purposes. This activity can be timed to increase its level of difficulty.
  6. Students receive brief reading selections (or solved math problems, parts of a musical composition, etc.) Teacher displays matching or associated posters, realia, etc. Students match the reading selections to the corresponding visual stimulus.

        4. Using listening skills ONLY, or listening and reading or writing skills.
Teachers can help students of ALL levels of English language proficiency and fluency by structuring testing situations that involve listening skills, or listening, reading, and/or writing skills in combination. For example:

  1. Teacher reads a brief reading selection. If all information read by the teacher is correct, students indicate so by circling or writing YES / NO.
  2. Teacher reads a brief reading selection. If any of the information read by the teacher is false or incorrect, students choose from several possible written correct answers the correct information that should have been read by the teacher.
  3. Teacher reads a brief reading selection with all correct or some incorrect information. Students write a brief sentence correcting the incorrect information.

    5. Using oral language skills.

But the MOST accurate way to ascertain mastery of the content area concepts or key ideas, is to ASK students to TALK about these key concepts or ideas. A student who can express h(im/er)self about any concept or idea is a student who has mastered those concepts or ideas. Here again the teacher may have to rephrase, as shown above, the oral questions for less English-fluent students. Or the teacher can:

  1. State or read brief paragraphs about the content area. The selection read may
  2. or may not contain incorrect information. One of the MOST English-fluent students is then asked to stand and re-state in h(is/er) own words what the teacher stated or read, making appropriate corrections, if necessary. ALL other students circle or write YES / NO if what the student stated indeed repeated all information given by the teacher, with appropriate corrections, if necessary. For any one test the teacher may call on ALL students in the class, from MOST to LESS English-fluent. Or the teacher may select only some of the MOST fluent students, and, on later tests, when less English-fluent students have developed increased fluency, the teacher can call on ALL students.

  3. Groups of multiple-level-English-fluency students prepare a high-caliber presentation in which the MOST English-fluent students talk while the LESS English-fluent students help display appropriate pictures, visual presentation or realia, while pointing.

There are many ways of modifying classroom tests to insure that ALL students have the opportunity to show mastery of the content area key vocabulary, ideas, and concepts. Tests with many different types of questions are the most appropriate for ALL students. Pencil-and-paper tests with only one or two types of questions are less effective in accurately measuring the teacher’s efforts to help students master the content areas.



For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

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E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net