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The doubts on standardized testing Essay

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The No.2 pencil may have probably been overworked. In America that is. If you must pick a country that has the most number of times where a student has taken a test, then you know what’s on top of the list. More than 100 million standardized exams are being administered in America every year. The counting starts even before an average American child enter kindergarten. Before a child may be accepted to a kindergarten program, one must take a readiness test, a screening test, an intelligence test, an achievement test and some other tests that the school may deem appropriate for their curriculum (Policy, 1990). The same goes on until the student finally graduates from college. Though the question still stands: Is this plethora of tests that students go through worth all the late-nights and anxiety?  Is it contributory to the education and future of the student and the overall circumstance of American schools? Or does it actually cause adversities to quite a few aspects in the education system?

            The No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 (NCLB), under the Bush Administration, sought to utilize the theories of standard- based education reform. It believes that setting a higher standard through a series of tests that must be taken by students shall result to a better quality of learning and education. The Act mandated the different States to account for students’ performance based on at least three categories: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state. Furthermore, the legislation requires that 100% of students in each state attain the level of Proficiency in English Language Arts and Mathematics by the academic year 2013-2014  (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001)

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            The country-wide standardized testing has a noteworthy effect on financial supports for schools and the future careers of each student.  (What is The Real Purpose of Standardized Testing, 2006) The increasing pressure to enable the students to achieve high marks also make the teachers focus on the development of the teaching curriculum which similarly are the grounds of the enormous tension for students and administrators.  Taking the standardized tests mostly cover the student’s knack for self-discipline than ability. Furthermore, since this type measurement that falls under social sciences as it is education, which can also be comparable to psychology for instance, is an evaluation of an attribute, which does not necessarily have a direct indicator.  Having multiple-choice or short answer type of questions that primarily make-up these tests may be concluded as a superficial understanding of a complex material in order to correctly provide for the answers.

            In order to get a satisfactory or a high score in a standardized test, one must devote a lot of time in studying the specific subjects that their school require to have an excellent result. With the number of students all over the country one cannot ignore the differences that each student’s possess. Ironically, standardized tests also aim to show the differences among the takers as far as academic excellence is concerned. But what it fails to distinguish is how these students prepare before they take their seats and start shading the right answers. Pressure is undoubtedly one of the things that tests inescapably instigate, thus it results to teachers tending to ponder on subjects that are required to end up with higher scores like English or Math.  Students who naturally have it easier on these subjects as it may be something that they are genuinely interested in, could obviously end up more victorious in the test. Other areas of “less” concern where other students may be more likely to do better are discounted and thus leaves that potential to be dormant.

            The phenomenon of “teaching to the test,” is a clear showing of how teaching has become methodical to achieve the desired results i.e. teaching students how to fill in the most number of the right circles, and other tactics to maximize the potential of getting high scores – without consideration on whether such kind of proficiency would even be remotely useful outside the testing environment. However there is quite an understandable “reason” that has been honed by what is being imposed to us by legislators. For example, in Texas, a state that has led the way to the use of standardized testing in its education reform endeavours. This is how four researchers from the RAND Corporation explain how Texas students performed satisfactorily in TAAS during the administration of Governor George W. Bush:

TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, the state-mandated achievement test) questions are released after each administration. Although there is a new version of the exam each year, one version looks a lot like another in terms of the types of questions asked, terminology and graphics used, content areas covered, etc. Thus, giving students instruction and practice on how to answer the specific types of questions that appear on the TAAS could very well improve their scores on this exam (Dr. Stephen Klein et al, 2005)

This situation could be compared to IELTS (International English Language Testing System), which is also a standardized test, that is required from foreigners who want to stay, work or study at a certain English speaking country like Australia, USA and Canada. It is composed the four areas of language (Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking). There are accepted “tricks” on how to achieve the desired scores. (Cambridge, 2006) For instance, in the area of speaking, there are expressions, sentence construction and response organization as determined by the IELTS help textbook itself, that one should preferably follow because they are determined to yield higher scores, especially for those who cannot speak English at all and are pressed for time in getting the score. Considering that speaking should at least possess the least amount of homogeny due to its nature of having to freely express oneself. In fact, the same is true with writing.  All they need to do is actually memorize the patterns.  Nevertheless, when they are already in the country, they still cannot communicate. At least they have their required scores in exchange to feeling completely detached from the world.

To correlate, in a state standardized test for history, there wouldn’t really be much needed explanation for multiple choice tests but even if one may argue that students discuss in a standard history test, the same would not really require very much analysis if it is mostly comparison and narration of what has happened that is asked for (California Standard History Test (released), 2008). It still roots from a great deal of memorization from the student. Thus missing out on improving their ability to deliberate and think critically, for instance, on how the history would essentially affect the present or the future, in terms of economy or culture.

On the other hand, supporters of the method contends that it is helpful for shaping the curriculum that standardized test  is most applicable on the students as based on the results. It creates significant curricular and structural changes for the same is reviewed, studied and analyzed and is thus, certainly useful.  Since it was crafted in a way where the tag of being unfair and discriminatory is avoided by way of studies, researches and experimentations, there would not be really any basis for such remarks. Moreover, it is claimed that standardized tests may actually be a source of motivation for teachers and students as well, because of that goal or score, if we may aptly say, that they are targeting (Phelps, 2005).

Jay Mathews, a writer in Washington Post in the on-line education column, who may also be considered as an opponent of standardized testing occupying the curricula, has asked teachers to e-mail him and indicate instances so as to impart “a precise accounting of how the new state achievement tests affect teaching.” He naturally got a number of answers from all over the country. In one instance, some responses contained the following, “Raymond Larrabee was told his son’s eighth-grade honors English class would not have time to read all of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield because there were too many topics to cover for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test; ” A teacher in Virginia wrote Matthews about being forced to abandon essays for submission to the National History day competition, an event designed to get students more involved with history, in part, by getting them to do their own research about the past (Mathews, 2001)

The point herein is that standardized tests trigger educating to be formed in a way that learning becomes so limited to what the tests entail. It prevents students from thinking more critically and from actually learning the complexities of what they are supposed to know. Consequently, when they are released in the real world that is overflowing with different forms of reality, it would be difficult for students to adjust since what they know did not actually branch out to what they are supposed to know. So the question that may be posed in here is not how high or low the students score is, it is the extent of what they have actually learned. Neither is the awareness of what needs to be improved in the student’s curriculum, but the accuracy of such results or if we are sharpening up the appropriate discipline for the students in general.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the group of students belonging from low-income and minority-group setting. In our current society, the aforementioned are more likely to remain in grade, placed in a lower level program, or put in remedial learning programs even in needless occasions. Usually, what’s imparted to them are bland learning and almost incompetent drills. This strengthens the guarantee that they will situated way beyond their peers with a very slim chance to catch up. If the situation is otherwise, then they may belong to a group which are a bit more fortunate to access better training (Vermilye, 1972). If all of these students will be amassed to take one test then we would very well know what the result will be, thus rendering a gap that would continue to widen and affect their lives until they grow old.

Since the tests are of great importance in determining which university a students should go to as their “readiness and ability” should link up with an Ivy League university’s curriculum, this would continuously reflect on the careers that the students would be having in the future and basically their lives and the lives of their families as well. Thus, if a student does not happen to have the chance to evolve in a better environment, then he/she would probably have to deal with the same situation all his/her life, as determined by the test. If there is a genuine concern with higher education’s social responsibilities, it must be recognized that educational opportunities are related to what the society and the individual students require.  These differences must not be permitted to inhibit great potential which are sporadically found in all students in general, and not just the “more educated” ones.

The fact that each state has the freedom to set their own standards rather than having a basis that would be generally true for everyone in the country pushes the envelope for further erroneousness. It is simply between having a higher or a lower bench mark if it must be compared. However, the Ivy League Universities like Harvard may not be found in all states or does not adjust to what the standard of a particular state is. Most students would probably want to have a degree from one of these universities but unfortunately they are still affected rather subjectively by what their scores say about how they academically perform.

            Standardized testing may work for special circumstances but it cannot serve as the sole basis in determining what a student can do. It can be said to be inaccurate since there are a lot of external factors that could essentially affect the outcome of the test. It is indeed difficult to take everything into consideration to be able to come up with one kind of measurement that would be justifiably appropriate for all student classifications. But the real danger lies on the tests capacity to raise the hurdles for full development of potential. It’s pertinence to some people cannot be denied for it may be compatible with their innate specialties and learning styles, but we also cannot overlook the fact that people are born, raised and shaped by their environment differently and therefore the need to be inspired and built up as to what matches them (Chism, 1992).

            According to Professor Stephen G. Sireci, the bad reputation of standardized tests portrayed by some critics “is an undeserved one.” He continues, “There is more to subjectivity in decision-making than ethnic, racial, gender, or class bias, however. The fact is that true objectivity requires too much time to be practical in making everyday decisions. Double-blind controlled experiments or program evaluations with random assignment require time, money, and trained professional observation to monitor their progress. In our daily lives, we make judgments and decisions continuously. We cannot set up a controlled experiment, and wait for the results, every time we must choose which laundry detergent to purchase, where to go on vacation or, for that matter, whom to hire for a job or whom to admit to the last available place at university.” (Sireci, 2005)

            There is indeed much difficulty that may arise from individual considerations of students’ needs that would be situated in a generally accepted measurement. However, the magnitude of standardized tests should be given less consideration than the actual achievement of the student within the classroom. In many districts, raising test scores has become the single most important gauge if a school has improved in any way. In effect, the administrators and teachers feel anxious on what other means should be resorted to in order to make the test scores go up. As a result, some alternatives include the altering of programs and curriculum to compete with the demands of these tests.

 More appropriate methods of determining the achievement and ability of a student already exist. The classroom is where their teachers have first-hand knowledge on what the students can or cannot do. Thus it is actually more accurate to consider the student’s scores earned from varied and suitable class activities, projects, class participation and of course, one could not put away, the periodical tests. In this case, however, there is more room to move in awarding the appropriate recognition for a particular student because it is in this instance where they can maximize and give all what they really got. Answers to multiple-choice questions and short memorized answers are inadequate foundation to designate the place of a person in society.

There are more important things that must be looked into before one decides to put into a better position, the people who are already in a better position and sink those who are already descending. The question that must be answered at this point is that, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

“America talks about closing the achievement gap, which makes it easy for us to ignore the other gaps between black and white children, the homeowner gap, the health care gap, the income gap, the poverty gap, the unemployment gap, the incarceration gap, the murder gap, close these gaps, and there won’t be an achievement gap (Kovacs, 2008).”

Bibliography
California Standard History Test (released). (2008). Retrieved July 11, 2010, from California Government Website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/rtqgr8history.pdf

Cambridge. (2006). IELTS 5 With Answers. Cambridge University Press.

Chism, L. B. (1992). Teaching for Diversity: New Directions for Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dr. Stephen Klein et al, L. H. (2005). What Do Test Scores in Texas Tell Us? What Do Test Scores in Texas Tell Us?

Kovacs, P. (2008, April 1). The Disparity Gap. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVmPKvhsNVk

Mathews, J. (2001). Class Struggle. The Washington Post .

No Child Left Behind Act. (2001). Retrieved July 11, 2010, from Ed.Gov US Department of Education : http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg1.html

Paul Nichols, J. T. (2010, March 18). Standard-Setting Methods as Measurement Processes. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from Wiley Inter-Science: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/123324158/HTMLSTART

Phelps, R. P. (2005). Defending Standardized Testing. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.,.

Policy, N. C. (1990). From gatekeeper to gateway: Transforming testing in America. Boston: Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Sireci, S. G. (2005). The Most Frequently Unasked Questions About Testing. In R. Phelps.

Vermilye, D. W. (1972). The Expanded Campus. Washington D.C: Jossey-Bass, Inc., Punlishers.

What is The Real Purpose of Standardized Testing. (2006). Retrieved July 11, 2010, from BC Teacher’s Federation: http://bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=11406

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