Standardized Testing Investigation
Academic success has been measured for decades by scores on Standardized tests including the HSPA, CAT, MAT, and SATs. Recent studies have held that too much weight is assigned to these tests and that certain higher education institutions have gone so far as to stop considering standardized test scores. The question addressed in this study is if standardized testing should be stopped.
Standardized Testing: The View of a Veteran and Retired Teacher
The work of Valerie Strauss reports an interview with Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer, and author and states that the reasons that teachers oppose standardized testing are many. The reasons stated include that public school teachers oppose the tests “…because they focus so narrowly on reading and math that the young are learning to hate reading, math, and school; because they measure only “low level” thinking processes; because they put the wrong people — test manufacturers — in charge of American education; because they allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated by officials for political purposes; because test items simplify and trivialize learning.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) Teachers also oppose the tests since they “provide minimal to no useful feedback; are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893; lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning; unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep; hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) Teachers are reported to oppose the tests as well since they “…radically limit their ability to adapt to learner differences; encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators; wrongly assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known; emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance; create unreasonable pressures to cheat.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) The tests are opposed by teachers since they results in a reduction in the creativity of teachers and reduce the “…appeal of teaching as a profession; are culturally biased; have no “success in life” predictive power; lead to the neglect of the best and worst students as resources are channeled to lift marginal kids above pass-fail “cut lines;” are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) The tests are opposed to be teachers because standardized testing are “…at odds with deep-seated American values about individual differences and worth; undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to and therefore most knowledgeable about problems are best positioned to deal with them; dump major public money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) Brady reports that, as a retired teacher who is “beyond the reach of today’s reformers” is opposed to the tests not only for the reasons stated but also because of the “psychological damage they do to kids not yet able to cope.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1) In addition, Brady states a personal belief that the tests “…and the Common Core State Standards on which they are based…are blocking policymaker consideration of what I believe to be the most promising educational innovation in the last century — the use of general systems theory as it developed during World War II as a tool for reshaping and radically simplifying the core curriculum.” (Strauss, 2011, p.1)
II. FairTest Reports
The website called ‘FairTest’ reports on standardized testing and addresses the question of whether standardized tests are fair and helpful evaluation tools. The answer stated is that they really are not fair nor are they helpful evaluation tools. Specifically stated is “On standardized exams, all test takers answer the same questions under the same conditions, usually in multiple-choice format. Such tests reward quick answers to superficial questions. They do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether standardized tests objective is addressed and stated is that the only objective part of most standardized tests “is scoring, when done accurately by a programmed machine. Deciding what items to include on the test, how questions are worded, which answers are scored as “correct,” how the test is administered, and the uses of exam results are all made by subjective human beings.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether standardized tests are reliable is also addressed and it is reported, “scores of young children and scores on sub-sections of tests are particularly unreliable.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The goal of most tests is reported to be “to sort and rank.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) This is accomplished through test makers making “small differences appear large. Questions most people get right or wrong are removed because they don’t help with ranking. Because of measurement error, two people with very different scores on one exam administration might get similar scores on a retest, or vice versa. On the SAT, for example, two students’ scores must differ by at least 144 points (out of 1,600) before the test’s sponsors are willing to say the students’ measured abilities really differ.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether test makers remove bias from tests is addressed and reported is that most test makers “review items for obvious bias such as offensive words however many forms of bias are not superficial.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) Test makers are also reported to sue “statistical bias-reduction techniques however, these are unable to detect “underlying bias in the test’s form or content. As a result, biased cultural assumptions built into the test as a whole often are not removed by test-makers.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether the tests reflect current knowledge related to how students learn is addressed and it is stated, “not at all…while our understanding of the brain and how people learn and think has progressed enormously, standardized tests have remained the same. Test makers still assume that knowledge can be broken into separate bits and that people learn by absorbing these individual parts. Today, cognitive and developmental psychologists understand that knowledge is not separable bits and that people (including children) learn by connecting what they already know with what they are trying to learn. If they cannot actively make meaning out of what they are doing, they do not learn or remember.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether multiple-choice or short-answer tests measure important student achievement is addressed and reported is that standardized testing is a poor measure of student learning. The tests are not good measures of the ability to “comprehend complex material, write, apply math, understand scientific methods, or assess what people can do on real-world tasks.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) The question of whether test scores are helpful to teachers is addressed and reported is that classroom surveys has shown that the majority of teachers “do not find scores from standardized tests scores very useful. The tests do not help a teacher understand what to do next in working with a student because they do not indicate how the student learns or thinks. Nor do they measure much of what students should learn.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1) FairTest addressed the question of how has the ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) legislation affected the use of standardized tests in the United States and answers that the NCLB “has led to a huge increase in testing. It requires state testing of every student in grades 3-8 and once in high school, more than twice previous federal mandates. NCLB also led to an explosion of other standardized exams, including “benchmark” tests often administered 3-10 times per year. U.S. students are now the most tested on Earth.” (FairTest, 2012, p.1)
III. Effects of Standardized Testing on Teachers and Students
The work of Moon, Brighton, Jarvis, and Hall (2007) reports a study that examines the effects of standardized testing programs on teachers and students. The study was a triangulated, mixed method study conducted in two phases. The interpretist theory of Erikson (1986) is reported as the theoretical, conceptual framework used for both phases of the study and Blumer’s (1972) framework of symbolic intereactionism is reported to have guided the phase focusing on student perceptions of state testing. Phase I involved a survey methodology sued to gain the beliefs and self-reported practices of a national sample of elementary, middle school, and high school teachers while phase II employed a qualitative research methodology to gain the beliefs of students and perceptions of teachers of the influences that state testing mandates have on the curriculum and process of instruction. The study reports that from each of the phases of the study findings include the following findings: (1) a tremendous amount of pressure is felt by both teachers and students related to high-stakes testing; (2) the pressure results in learning through drill and practice type of curriculum and instruction; (3) the pressure of high stakes testing is felt greater in schools that are disadvantaged; and (4) students who are gifted and talented feel pressure to perform well so…