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College of Education > News and Publications > News: April-June 2013 > Progress Reports Can be Detrimental to Test Performance

Progress Reports Can be Detrimental to Test Performance

A study reveals that feedback given to certain types of learners actually erodes their standardized test scores.

Roy ClarianaElementary and secondary schools rely on standardized tests for an accurate measure of their students’ progress. A study by Roy Clariana, professor of education, reveals that feedback given to certain types of learners actually erodes their standardized test scores. Those schools that provide test preparation for their students and then provide feedback may be undermining the efficacy of those tests for some students.

Wyoming Area School District in northeastern Pennsylvania and its superintendent, Ray Bernardi wanted to ascertain what cost effective measures were available to improve middle school students’ performance on the state Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test. He worked with Clariana to conduct the study.

Clariana’s investigation focused on the influence of progress reports on students’
discretionary test preparation effort over a nine-week period and also on their
actual test achievement.

Achievement-Goal Theory proposes two kinds of achievement goals: performance-goal orientation and learning- or mastery-goal orientation. A learning-goal orientation is especially interesting since it could be thought of as learning for the sake of learning, or becoming a “life-long learner,” which is what most teachers hope their students will become.

“Our premise is that the current strong focus on PSSA testing establishes a context that wrongly aligns more with a performance-goal orientation,” Clariana said. “Further, progress reports reinforce a performance-goal orientation.”

The investigation was conducted through an individualized and extensive computer-based system from Compass Learning for individualized PSSA test preparation, which is a performance-oriented context. An individualized computer-generated progress report was randomly sent home to parents of some students--an approach that perhaps doubly reinforces a focus on testing--while for other students no progress report was prepared, providing a ‘no report’ control.

The study revealed that progress reports of computer-based work sent home to parents only slightly positively affected test performance for performance-oriented and for low-achieving goal-oriented students. However, for those students with a high learning-goal orientation, progress reports negatively affected effort and PSSA test performance.

“The findings also hold an obvious important point for practice. The ubiquitous use of outcome feedback in schools and organizations may be eroding performance for learning-oriented students and, to be effective, should be examined for congruence with individual motivations for task engagement,” Clariana said.

“Our findings suggest that unsolicited outcome feedback should not accompany tasks that otherwise encourage a learning-goal orientation. For multiple-goal tasks in which individual motivations may vary, helping individuals choose their most valued type of feedback represents one way to match feedback type to individual goal orientation. Alternatively, providing both process and outcome feedback to all individuals may avoid overemphasis, and associated negative effects, on a potentially incongruent form of feedback.”

The experimental investigation was published in the November 2012 "Journal of Applied Social Psychology."

— Andy Elder (July 2013)