Sometimes even small environmental changes for students can result in big gains in academic performance. In 2018 the Berkeley Research, Evaluation, and Assessment (BREA) department conducted a study that resulted in significant gains for students on California’s state test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), merely by changing the testing environment for some students.
Lessons learned from prior studies on testing suggest that where and with whom students test can have a significant impact on how well they perform on the assessment. Evidence has shown that when students are more relaxed they tend to perform better on assessments and this is particularly true for students who have faced academic challenges in the past.
During the 2018 spring state testing cycle, a group of 11th grade BHS students who were identified as at risk for underperforming were randomly assigned to take the SBA test in a more comfortable testing environment in an academically homogenous group. The goal was to mitigate the impact of negative stereotypes students have about themselves based on their academic status relative to their higher achieving peers. It worked!
Students who participated showed seven times higher rates of academic growth on the SBA than the control group and over twice as high rates of proficiency. While the study did not select students of color in particular, black students who did participate in the “test environment intervention” outperformed the 11th grade students overall. How students perform on the SBA in 11th is a good indicator of college and career readiness and the California State Universities (CSUs) and California’s community colleges are using these results with increasing frequency to determine course placement in English and math.
According to David Stevens of BREA, “The bottom line is that we created a testing environment that reduced psychological barriers to student success and allowed students to perform at a level closer to their actual ability.” This past month at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Toronto a paper by Stevens (“Maximizing Assessment Performance of At-Risk Students Using the Academic Support Index to Engineer a Low Stress Testing Environment”) on this study won the Division H Outstanding Paper competition for Advances in Methodology. You can access the paper here.
Note: California’s Smarter Balanced Assessment 2019 testing period is now underway in our K-12 schools (April – June, 2019). All students are tested in grades 3-8, and in grade 11.