Thursday, July 10, 2014

Standardized Testing: Why the Scores Should Not Take Priority over a Quality Education.

Standardized Testing:

Why the Scores Should Not Take Priority over a Quality Education.


Every student and every teacher faces a time during the school year when preparing for standardized testing becomes a necessity and cannot be ignored. Stressful, demanding, and intimidating are just a few adjectives that accurately describe this period of time for most educators and their pupils. But why such a sudden shift in the curriculum? No need for multiple choice in this situation, the answer is in the test scores. All over the country the scores from students’ standardized tests have become an increasingly important indicator of a school’s ability to meet state mandated requirements. While some may argue that standardized testing is absolutely necessary to rank schools, the tests themselves only measure the cooperation of teachers and students rather than a true assessment of their teaching abilities and comprehension skills. A growing movement of educators has realized the importance of rewarding actual intelligence instead of adherence to standards and is focusing on reformation of standardized testing so that the scores better reflect intellect and encourage analytical skills.

The focus on nationwide testing increased when the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law on January 8, 2002 by President Bush (Seeman) and while there are a plethora of reasons to oppose this system, the initial reason for nationwide standardized testing was to hold all public schools to a high standard of education. However, under this act, test scores impact how much funding a school gets from the government, as well as how much independence a school has. Schools that achieve on a poor level might lose control of their school to state officials who will then make the majority of decisions concerning operations (Evans). Educators and parents quickly realized the additional consequences of standardized testing. Some of the arguments against standardized testing include how the scores can affect teachers’ jobs while students are barely punished and how test preparation impacts students’ futures as well as our economy’s health. Looking forward to prevent such outcomes from standardized testing can be daunting but with a solid understanding of the issues, one can recognize the importance of reforming this system.

High stakes standardized testing is the type of testing that places an immense amount of pressure on schools, educators, and students to achieve a particular percentage in order to avoid certain consequences. The scores are monitored and regulated through the No Child Left Behind guidelines and “Failure to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) can result in various sanctions, from allowing students to transfer to a higher-scoring school to a complete restructuring of the academic program and staff.” (Barth). The penalties are real and can seriously affect teachers, students, and entire school systems. Testing in a way that truly reflects an educator’s teaching abilities would be reasonable, but to zero in on a list of accepted answers and responses is an impractical challenge.

In some schools, standardized test scores have become a huge part of job performance evaluation. So to review, the tests are focused on a specific set of skills that the teachers must force upon their students in order for them to produce acceptable scores which in turn may determine the future of their job. To some this may sound like a fair system to assess a teacher’s effectiveness but when the stakes are not quite as high for students, it is not guaranteed that their scores are an accurate reflection of that teacher’s efforts: “Teachers are the custodians and life guards of our society. They transfer our entire culture to each generation…But, teachers are too much under the gun to get student scores up on measurable curriculum or they may lose their job, and their school may lose funding. Teachers are wrongly made to be the scapegoats of a failing education system.” (Seeman). The scores of students that completely disregard standardized testing do not show an incompetent teacher but merely an uncooperative student. While this situation is not beneficial for a student either, it occurs often and can put a teacher’s job and a school’s funding in danger. If these tests were reformed by the schools and educators, there would be no need for the extra pressure and intense preparation: “Teachers need to be evaluated not by just the cognitive learning they can transfer, but by the affective-social knowledge and skills they give to students” (Seeman). The students could still face some testing but as long as the teacher is doing his or her job and the test is actually focused on current curriculum, the students would easily be able apply their knowledge and their scores will become a more accurate reflection of the teacher’s abilities. Reformation by the teachers is currently the best solution for removing the high stakes attached to their careers. Facing such significant penalties results in another issue that affects the futures of students as well as our future economy.   

As a direct result of high stakes standardized testing, teachers have a tendency to lean toward intense test preparation. The negative effects resulting from highly focused test preparation, otherwise known as “teaching to the test,” can be detrimental to the students’ learning, their futures, and our futures as they grow and emerge into the real world as adults:

A study by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing found that teachers have started planning their curricula around state tests. This phenomenon is called “teaching to the test,” which can entail teaching only material that will be seen on tests or simply teaching test-taking skills. Opponents of high-stakes testing claim that with tests at the center of a year's curriculum, teachers lose some of the dynamism and creativity that makes school effective and enjoyable—that there is no value placed on concepts and hands-on projects that require a greater challenge than what can be tested in a multiple-choice format (Evans).

While these methods may increase test scores, they only promote short term logic and surface comprehension. Some tactics of “teaching to the test” include practicing various test strategies, writing essays that meet scoring guidelines, and exclusion of subjects that will not appear on the test. Stated simply by Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education,: ‘Many observers express concern that an over-reliance on standardized tests will skew classroom instruction toward content and skills that can be most easily tested at the expense of critical thinking and creativity’ (Barth). In fact, the majority of those in opposition to the test are concerned for the decrease in creativity. Even recognized educators can see the dangers of eliminating so many aspects of a students’ thinking process: “A five-year University of Maryland study completed in 2007 found that “‘the pressure teachers were feeling to 'teach to the test’” since No Child Left Behind was leading to "declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum." (Bruce). Educators and parents alike are concerned that schools will adopt and apply this method to their current curriculum resulting in a simplified education that has little to no value for college or beyond.

Most standardized testing supporters argue that the narrowing of the curriculum simply focuses on essential content and skills, eliminates activities that do not produce learning gains, and motivates students to excel. However, the removal of subjects or topics deemed “unnecessary” will affect students’ thinking process in the long run. Over time, the fear is that teachers will further simplify curriculum in order to meet testing requirements because increasing a school’s rank to maintain funding is becoming even more important: “Our students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world. Politicians and businesspeople, determined to get tough with students and teachers, have increased the pressure to raise standardized test scores. Unfortunately, the effort to do so typically comes at the expense of more meaningful forms of learning” (Kohn).  With educators’ attempts to boost test scores, reliable and thorough teaching practices will become a thing of the past. The outcome will be detrimental to the students themselves because they will have difficulty when they reach a college level education. Not only will they have issues when trying to communicate ideas, but they will also find college assignments challenging due to the level of analytical skills that they require. Students may even be deterred from attending college altogether. The hope is that when students enter college they bring knowledge with them, further develop their skills and interests, and then apply their intellect and expertise to the world around them. If we have a group emerging that avoids college and a group that struggles to mentally adjust to college, then we also have created some problems as a society that has no interest in altering the standardized testing system.

 Students are meant to be nurtured in their school environment and to be given the opportunity to develop as unique minds and productive members of society but with the focus shifting to test preparation and a lack of proper instruction, we are putting our own futures at risk. Students will become great test takers but this is not a real-world applicable skill. Young minds must be celebrated and challenged rather than forced into standards and filled with methods they can only use in the present. Our future presents a unique set of problems that call for great minds to create original solutions. By testing everyone in the same way and looking for the same answers all the time, we threaten the great minds of our future: “…creativity among U.S. children has been in decline since 1990, with a particularly severe drop among those currently between kindergarten and sixth grade…No points are given for creativity on these tests…. An entire education policy that thrives on repetition and monotony is being enacted, stunting creativity and curiosity under the guise of the false idol of accountability.”(Seeman).  With an ever-increasing priority placed on standardized testing, curriculums may become so simplified that when students reach college, they may become easily overwhelmed and drop out. The decrease in college graduates will obviously have a direct impact on our economy. Without a new influx of ideas and products, our economy will struggle. Thus, we need to seriously consider the consequences of our current standardized testing system, especially the test preparation methods. Losing sight of a quality education while attempting to please state standards is not beneficial for anyone.

Students should not be herded together by standardized test scores. They should be in an environment which allows their minds to flourish and their intelligence should be reflected in their words, their work, and their actions instead of being determined by their ability to conform to set of standards. Unfortunately, teachers are pressured into morphing students’ minds until they can respond in the way the state desires them to. Not all students are willing to cooperate and can jeopardize the jobs of the educators and schools around them. Due to the high stakes attached to some standardized test scores, teachers begin to alter and simplify the curriculum to improve the scores at the cost of the student’s education. With such emphasis placed on standardized testing, the curriculum will change drastically and students may not be prepared at all to take on the challenges of college. A lack of college graduates, a lack of citizens with analytical skills, a lack of creativity, a lack of new solutions, and a lack of new products will all be soon to follow. How soon until these changes take place? How soon until we too feel the effects in our economy? Well frankly, there’s no multiple choice answer for that one but we can recognize that standardized testing is “not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. . . . They are not a force of nature but a force of politics-and political decisions can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed.” (Kohn). Only prevention can eliminate these risks and with the reformation of standardized testing and the associated preparation methods, we can maintain the health of our economy in addition to preserving the future of education for students and teachers alike.
Works Cited
Barth, Patte, and Ruth Mitchell. "Standardized Tests and Their Impact on Schooling." The Center for Public Education. National School Boards Association, 16 Feb. 2006. Web. 10 June 2014.
Bruce Jacobs, "No Child Left Behind's Emphasis on 'Teaching to the Test' Undermines Quality Teaching,” Endeavors, Dec. 2007. Web. 11 June 2014.
Evans, Jasmine. "Problems With Standardized Testing ." Ed. Danielle Wood. California Technology Ventures, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 June 2014.
Kohn, Alfie. The Case against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools. Portsmouth: He, 2000. N. page. Print.
Rodriguez, Erica. "Experts Play a Huge Role in Futures of Kids, Teachers." The Orlando Sentinel 7 July 2012: C1+. WVLibraries. Web. 19 June 2014.
Seeman, Howard. "The Side Effects of Standardized Testing." 11.6 (2011): 1-2. Web. 11 June 2014.