Is there too much emphasis on standardized test scores when it comes to overall school progress? That’s an old debate but one that becomes more relevant every day. Schools are under tremendous pressure to raise scores. Testing, it seems, has become more of a focus than teaching. I completely agree with accountability; inclusive of schools, teachers, parents and students themselves. The goal of setting high standards for all is a noble one. Striving to improve education is certainly in all of our best interests. I also realize that although standardized testing is certainly not a perfect measure, many would argue that it is the most objective and least ambiguous tool we have. However, it is not without its controversy. Some of the arguments noted with the use of standardized testing to prove or disprove the performance of a school or a particular teacher follow:
- A single instrument cannot be expected to serve a multitude of purposes including ensuring good teaching and learning, making high-stakes decisions about students and teachers, and holding schools and districts accountable.
- Standardized test scores, according to some, measure little more than socioeconomic status and certainly don’t take into account the entire school career. It seems illogical to justify holding a 5th grade teacher completely accountable for students’ test scores when they reflect everything that has happened to that student prior to stepping in to that classroom. This would not only include previous education, but family situations, frequent moves, attendance, parent involvement, innate ability, poverty, both physical and mental illness in the home as well as abuse. These disparities are not excuses, but sometimes are seen as such by those who do not have to face them. These non-instructional factors explain a lot of variance when schools are compared.
- These tests may oversimplify knowledge and by their very multiple-choice nature cannot accurately measure higher-order thinking skills. Kohn (Standardized Testing and its Victims – read complete article here), argues that they only measure superficial thinking skills. Many “non standard kids” do not fit into a “standard” mold.
- Tests may be biased. It has been disputed for years that many standardized tests are unfair because the items require a knowledge set that is much more likely to come from children with a privileged background. It has been argued that the creators of the tests are people with higher education who are likely far removed, and always have been, from the minority world. This can provide an advantage to students with affluent, well educated parents.
- Economically, schools are cutting back and eliminating programs due to the costs of preparing students for testing. Teachers are using classroom time to teach test taking strategies – often at the expense of art programs, sports, current events, and service learning projects. Publishing companies and educational resource organizations stand to make a mint from the production of all manner of tools that promise to help raise test scores. Even in this recession, now might be a prime time to get into the business of creating and publishing materials that can promise inflated test scores – use the buzz words “AYP”, “RTI” and “research based”, and you might find yourself making a lot of money. I wonder if we have some lobbyists in Washington who are on to this. Politicians who support a lot of standardized testing and all that goes with it just might be courted by companies who profit from it. Hmmmm…..
- Lastly, and I’ll quote directly from Kohn’s article here because he says it so well: “Many public officials, along with like-minded journalists and other observers, are apt to minimize the matter of resources and assume that everything deficient about education for poor and minority children can be remedied by more forceful demands that we ‘raise the bar’. The implication here would seem to be that teachers and students could be doing a better job but have, for some reason, chosen not to do so and need only be bribed or threatened into improvement. (In fact, this is the tacit assumption behind all incentive systems.) The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.”
Those of us in the Franklin Special School District, who pride ourselves on being at the top most of the time, were disappointed to learn that even here, according to the tests, we are being targeted as a district that needs improvement. (The Tennessean, Aug. 10, 2011)
Regardless of the fact that the results from the 2010-2011 year showed the FSSD ranking 6th in the state in math, 3rd in reading, 5th in science and 3rd in Social Studies – in addition to improvements in proficiency within subgroups in math and language arts; still the district did not reach AYP (adequate yearly progress) goals. Limited English proficiency and African-Americans made up the subgroups who did not meet standards in math and/or reading/language arts. Some of the arguments above may lend themselves well to the reasons why.