Each fall, Park Tudor students in grades 3 through 8 take part in the Comprehensive Testing Program Online (CTP-5) offered by the Educational Record Bureau (ERB). Park Tudor uses the CTP-5 results for two purposes: as an external measure of our students’ current strengths and weaknesses and to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our curriculum and instruction. Most schools use both internal and external tools to measure learning. Standardized measurements, however, can be tricky and deserve the appropriate weight of influence on our academic program. To that end, following are four key points that explain Park Tudor’s philosophy on the CTP-5.
1. The CTP-5 Is Neutral.
When Park Tudor students are assessed by the CTP-5, we gain valuable insight into our curriculum and our instructional practices in the classroom. The CTP-5 is a “neutral” external tool and provides a measurable comparison between our students’ performance and the performance of students in other independent schools in the United States and around the world.
2. The CTP-5 Helps Us Validate and Improve Our Academic Program.
When we receive the results from the CTP-5, we use the data to reflect on how to improve our curriculum and the overall academic program at Park Tudor. Because we can compare our results with other independent schools, we can see how we are doing in specific areas and then, if appropriate, make curricular changes that strengthen our academic program. Of course, we do not take these decisions lightly, and we would never make any major changes because of one year’s results. We look for trends in the data over several years that validate the success of our academic program and identify areas for its improvement.
The last major curricular shift, for example, is when we adopted the Math-in-Focus curriculum in 2011. The leadership at the time based that decision on trends in the results from the former CTP test. Since that decision, we’ve seen a significant improvement in our students’ math performance on the CTP tests and in the classroom.
3. Park Tudor Teachers Do Not “Teach to the Test.”
At Park Tudor, we do not “teach to the test,” though our students receive some instruction on how to approach different types of questions on the CTP-5. It is not, however, the curricular mission of the school for our students to excel at the CTP-5. Along with classroom observations and other internal assessments, the CTP-5 counts as one measure for learning, but it is not an authoritative measure of a student’s academic ability or potential.
4. Standardized Tests (CTP-5) Do Not Paint the Whole Picture.
Why did a student perform poorly on a given section of the CTP-5? Myriad influences are possible: test anxiety, illness, inexperience with testing methods. We consider this data from every angle and especially whether it aligns with what we’re seeing in the classroom every day. For example, a strong writer may struggle to answer multiple choice questions about grammar and punctuation, yet this same student can write personal narratives that are grammatically clean. We should never allow one test to make a final statement on a student’s ability.
The CTP-5 helps us when it is used as an external measure to improve the learning that takes place at Park Tudor. It should not be used as a final judgment on a student’s ability or cause teachers feel pressure to “teach to the test” and forgo other important learning opportunities. Again, it is essential to use both internal and external tools to measure student learning. Though an important external tool, the results from the CTP-5 will never stand alone as a sole metric of Park Tudor’s or an individual student’s academic success. It is but one piece of a very beautiful, very complicated, puzzle.