Investigating Critical & Contemporary Issues in Education/High Stakes Assessment

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The educational system in the United States has been using standardized tests to evaluate the performance of students. However, there has been an ongoing debate among many scholars, parents, and teacher on the effectiveness of standardized tests. What exactly are Standardized tests? Standardized tests are objective measures given in the exact same way to all students, primarily to evaluate their progress in elementary, middle, and high school. The test content varies with each grade. Standardized tests are types of exams that assess the student’s capability on the basis of multiple choice questions. Students are generally provided four or five options per question and they are expected to choose one correct answer amongst the five options. The tests are predominantly multiple choice, but more and more they incorporated written samples.

Standardized tests are intended to give parents information about their children, teacher information about their students, and school districts information about the effectiveness of their programs. They’re developed so a student’s test scores can be compared with the scores of others in the same grade. They provide precise information about students’ basic academic skills, telling us whether they are above, at, or below grade level.

School districts typically may use two kinds of standardized tests: aptitude and achievement. An aptitude test, such as an intelligence test, measures how much a student is capable of learning; an achievement test measures how much she has already learned. School achievement tests always assess reading and math, but they may also evaluate spelling, language, science, social studies, and library skills. By comparing a student’s scores on an achievement and aptitude test, you can make a rough judgment as to whether the student is performing on their academic ability.

Some of the positive aspects of Standardized testing it that it gives teachers guidance to help them determine what to teach students and when to teach it. The result of this is less wasted instructional time and a simplified way of timeline management. Standardized testing also allows students’ progress to be tracked over the years. When the same test is taking yearly, it is easy to see if a student is improving, staying the same, or losing ground academically. Standardized test can give parents an idea of how their child is doing as compared to students across the country and locally. This can measure how your local area is doing compared to a national landscape.

There are also some negative aspects to Standardized testing, which could accuse many teachers of teaching to the test. Most do not do this, but some feel so much pressure for their students to achieve a specific score that they do end up teaching the test, whether they want to or not. This is one way of teachers’ losing the enjoyment of teaching. Standardized testing puts some schools systems under a great deal of pressure to raise their scores so they resort to decreasing or doing away with other things in which could result in a negative impact on children’s social, emotional, and academic well-being. Standardized testing can place a huge amount of stress on students and teachers alike. It has led to increasing importance placed on testing and scores. The cost of this emphasis on scores is what leads to the stress factor in students. Students are no longer involved in the real process of learning but are being prepared for testing. No one is opposed to standards, but higher standards alone are not likely to offer help for the full range of school-based problems.

In conclusion, 2001 NCLB Act was passed to assure that all students are proficient in state standards by 2014. This Act make sure that student benefits when states establish high, appropriate, and reasonable curriculum content standards for all students, and hold schools accountable for teaching the body of knowledge.

Work Cited

Nelson, Jack. “Critical Issues in Education” McGraw-Hill Humanities 7th Edition Feb. 26, 2009 (pp. 125-146)

Educational Digest “Scores Remain Stable” 2009-03 /74:7/ Vol. 33(2)

Beardsley- Amrein, Audrey. Educational Digest “This Is Jeopardy” 2009-01 /74:5/ Vol. 14(5)

Oswald, John. District Administration “The Future of Testing”2008-08 /44:9/ Vol. 58(2)

Popham, James W. Educational Leadership “The Assessment-Savvy Student” 2008-11 /66:3/ Vol. 80 (2)

“Every year America’s public schools administer more than 100 million standardized exams including IQ, achievement, screening and readiness tests.” (, 2007) Standardized exams originated as a component of outcome-based education (currently referred to as standard-based education). Standard-based education is a philosophy that focuses on empirically measuring the level of student performance, or outcomes. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reinforces these examinations by requiring each state to annually administer a standardized test. Schools are then required to produce an annual report card stating their students’ proficiency levels. There are two views which exist when discussing standardized testing. Some believe that although teachers focus on teaching testing skills, students will still achieve social and critical thinking skills in the classroom while others say that we should liberate, not control students. Both views are very different, though one can see that the implementation of standardized testing certainly impacts curriculum standards, the utilization of data, and thorough assessment of the student.

Standardized testing imposes limits to the curriculum. Consequently, “teaching to the test” becomes compulsory. Time constraints force educators to spend class time focused on preparing students for the content of the test, and in doing so they have lost the ability to provide students with skills in subjects such as art, music, and history. Teachers are pressured to “teach to the test” because there is a requirement which mandates that they improve test scores. The federal government’s periodic national survey of teachers demonstrates the curricular shifts. In 1991, teachers in grades 1 to 4 spent an average of 33% of their classroom instructional time on reading. By 2004, reading was consuming 36% of instructional time. For math, average weekly time went from 15% to 17%. Meanwhile, time for social studies and science decreased. Since 1991, instructional time spent on social studies went from 9% to 8%, and time spent on science went from 8% to 7%. (Rothstein & Jacobsen, 2006, p.264)

“Drilling on test items, and using the format of the test as a basis for teaching...leads primarily to improved test taking skills.” (, 2007) Unfortunately, with the instructional focus directed towards developing the skills of memorization, students lose critical thinking skills and the ability to answer more complex questions. The reality is that the information needed to solve problems in daily life, may be “nonexistent, hidden, or questionable.” (Posner, 2004, p. 750) What kinds of problems might we encounter in daily life that would require critical thinking? On standardized tests, all of the information is included along with the problem, thus the student is not required to research or even question where the data came from. Along with the data being immediately available, the possible answers are listed under A), B), C), or D), in a limited multiple choice list. The ability to discover and analyze is lost; two essential skills in the growth and development of students. It is unlikely that an accurate assessment could possibly be obtained based on the results of a standardized test since it is commonly known that students learn in many varied ways. Thus, an increase in test scores does not simply equate to academic performance. If the test data is not being utilized to rank the nation in academic performance, then it must address other issues in which it is meaningful.

Data retrieved from standardized testing should be used effectively to pursue future scholastic goals. A mere compilation of data in itself is meaningless. To that end, schools produce an annual report card (which generally goes well beyond a laundry list of test scores) including “race, gender, socioeconomic status, first language, and other important categories,” which indicate whether schools are adequately “serving students from diverse backgrounds.” (Peterson & Neill, 1999) The data should concern quality of teaching issues and academic learning within the school; however it is often more about the income level of the students’ families. The information gathered from the report card is used “to guide decisions about program selection, curriculum arrangement, professional development for teachers, and school resources” that may be utilized for the betterment of the school. (The U.S. Department of Education, 2009) Besides demonstrating improvement on annual report cards, schools must participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in order to continue receiving federal funding. The NAEP is the only national assessment which continues to evaluate American student’s knowledge and achievement in major academic subjects including history, geography, and art. A good system of accountability and assessment will let parents and the public know that these, too, are an important part of a well rounded educational curriculum.

Standardized testing is fundamentally different in comparison to the classroom assessment. As teachers, we strive to challenge students to grow through the use of directed problem solving activities; a sharp contrast to proctoring a test which has been created to ensure a strict level of fairness to every person who desires to take it. Considering the changes in the educational process since the passage of the NCLB Act, do you think it would be possible to go back to the way things used to be? Alternatives to standardized testing exist and may be utilized to thoroughly assess students. Two alternative assessment methods are performance assessment and portfolio assessment. Both methods focus on a students’ process of learning, but portfolio assessment also looks at the growth of the student in other areas as well. For example, if a student demonstrates an interest in writing; exploring the concept of being a writer, developing the ability to evaluate their own work and setting goals for themselves would be an integral aspect of the educational experience. To avoid the issue of a narrowing curriculum, teachers may simply expand “the amount of material that will be the subject of assessment.” (Wolf, 2007, p. 693) Further, by recording evidence from actual classroom learning, teachers could then include all areas of instruction in public reporting. Effective educators could then make adjustments for the improvement of students. Teachers could demonstrate the experience that runs through humanity, including life skills; an additive to the curriculum that can teach tolerance and recognition. These kinds of alternatives may indeed be the answer.

Although standardized testing continues our focus on academic excellence, we must not forget to allow opportunities within the structure of daily teaching to facilitate the growth and development of students as well. We must clarify educational goals and help students become active in their learning instead of reducing teaching to a limited content and skill set. The active learner is “one who is awakened to pursue meaning…Encounters with the arts nurture and sometimes provoke the growth of individuals who reach out to one another.” (Greene, 2007, p. 37) When we reach out to students, sharing “experiences with them beyond skills and standards” they become more receptive and retain the information longer. (Ferreira, 2008, p. 140) Ultimately, our goal should include producing students that have the capacity to partake in society, and solve problems for themselves.


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Peterson, B., & Neill, M. (1999). Alternatives to Standardized Tests. Rethinking Schools, 13(3). Retrieved September 21, 2009, from Posner, D. (2004). What's Wrong with Teaching to the Test?. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved September 23, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database. Rothstein, R., & Jacobsen, R. (2006). The Goals of Education. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(4). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from Academic Search Complete database. Wolf, P. (2007). Academic Improvement Through Regular Assessment. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(4), 690-702. (2009), Standardized Testing: Frequently Asked Questions,

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