utureAlmost every person who has graduated from high school has taken the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), which is generally used for college admissions. We all remember the stress of taking a test that could affect our future educational plans. Now due to the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001, this kind of test is now being administered to children from the 3rd to 8th grades as a way to determine if the school or teachers are educating them properly. High-stakes standardized tests of this nature should not be used to determine the educational abilities of either schools or the teachers.
Standardized tests have been around for quite a while now, and are used by a large number of schools. These tests are developed by large educational companies, and because they are distributed to such a large number of schools, they’re used as a standard with which to compare students from the state in which they reside, or across the U.S. Most of these tests are fill in the bubble, multiple-choice, versus essay tests, which are more expensive for the schools to have graded. Some of the better known standardized tests are: SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), ACT (American College Test), CAT (California Achievement Test), ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), and TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills).
These tests have been used by high schools and colleges to determine if a student has the knowledge needed to succeed in college. It is felt by a large number of students, teachers, and others in the education field, that these tests are not a true representation of what the students know, but rather how well the students can take a test. Standardized tests do not show how well a student does in class work, homework, self-study, or their response to learning.
The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) act (P.L. 107-110), was signed into law by George Bush in 2001 to replace the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. NCLB has as one of its major requirements that all students from 3rd to 8th grade be required to take a standardized tests every year, and once in grades 9-12, these tests are on the subjects of math and reading, and must be expanded to science by 2007. In addition to the tests, states must implement an accountability system using the same assessment for all public schools in the state, and must meet the “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), which means that all public schools must show improvement every year. The baseline of this program is created using data from the 2001-2002 school year. If a school does not meet the AYP for two consecutive years, it is placed on a list of schools which need improvement, and receive assistance from the school district or the state. If the school continues to fail to meet AYP, then they may be subject to staff changes, longer school years, or even be closed and re-opened under new management.
This all seems like a great new program that will raise education levels and give aid to schools that lack funds, but it has some major problems. The first of these is what is called “teaching to the test.” This means that since the test is a “high-stakes test,” on which the future of the schools and the teachers depend on, the emphasis in the classroom will be on teaching children how to pass these kinds of tests. This can lead to teachers changing their teaching methods and class structure from learning how to find the answers to just knowing the answers.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act dramatically increases the use and importance of standardized tests. However, standardized tests are poor yardsticks to measure student achievement. In fact, an emphasis on testing encourages teaching to the test, skews school programs and priorities, and drives quality teachers out of the profession. In addition, since test scores can bounce up and down rapidly, they are virtually useless for comparing a school’s progress from one year to the next. (1)
Another problem that is anticipated to occur is the shifting of emphasis off of classes that do not get tested such as, literature, art, music, and social sciences. These classes will become casualties of the war to pass the tests, simply because that classroom time can be better used to prepare the students for the tests. This will in turn cause the children to quit using their imagination, and become drones who only know how to answer questions.
If you were to ask most teachers if they believe that a single test, on a single day of the year, could give a true picture of what a student has learned, the answer would most likely be no. A multi-stage testing system might be a little better, giving a comparison between what the student knew in the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and at the end of the year, but even this is not a certain way to evaluate a child. Teachers usually watch the students in the class, grade homework, and meet with the child’s parents to evaluate the parent’s feelings towards their child’s education. These observations are necessary for the teacher to know if they are doing their jobs correctly, a test score just reflects how the student performed that one day. Scores might be different on a different day, a different time, if the student’s mood is good or bad, or is tired.
There is also the variable of the economics of one school compared to another. Some schools have more money to spend on study materials and sample tests than other schools. It is widely known that most inner-city schools have very little money to spend on supplies for teachers and students and therefore are placed at a disadvantage when compared to a suburban school with a broader range of incomes. Should we allow economics to determine that a school is not able to educate our children because they couldn’t afford to buy as many practice tests as a school with a larger budget?
These reasons, and many more, are why standardized tests should not be allowed to be the sole determining factor in how good a school is for our children. We should look at all of the factors which contribute to the learning environment in our schools and not just at how well our students can take tests.
1.”Education-Mandatory Testing,” 2003 Policy Summary by the Center for Policy Alternatives http://www.pta.org/ptawashington/issues/testing.asp