Considering All the Facts: Mistakes About Standardized Tests
There has been a lot of talk about standards for schools. Politicians have made this issue a campaign debate. Now everyone has jumped on the “bandwagon” and wants accountability of students’ education (Shafer, 2002). When there is a problem in the education system, teachers are the first to be blamed. They are left with the responsibility of proving they are teaching what needs to be taught. States as well as the federal government use standardized testing to assess learning. They want someone to be held responsible for students’ learning. The problem lies when the teacher and student suffer from the results of standardized testing. “The pressure on educators and policymakers to demonstrate accountability in schools has driven some to use the test results inappropriately (Holloway, 2001).” Standardized tests are comparisons of one student to another not of how well a teacher teaches or a student learns. Standardized tests should not have such high-stakes in assessing learning because that is not their intended purpose.
In order to understand the purpose of these tests we must first examine what they are. According to W. James Popham(1999), “a standardized test is any examination that’s administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner”. Norm-Referenced tests and Criterion Referenced tests are two types of tests used to evaluate students. Norm-referenced tests compare a student’s score with a “norm” group (same age or grade level), while Criterion Referenced tests are supposed to be an assessment of what is actually taught. Students are supposed to do better on the latter because it is assumed they are taught the material that they will be tested on (Cohen, 1988). Contrary to Criterion Referenced tests, Norm-Referenced tests often contain information the
student has never been taught. This test is used to “select the best learners, the worst learners, and all the learners in between (Cohen, 1988).
If students score considerably high on the tests some may view them as advanced students. The students may be given more challenging work or entered into a Magnet Program. Such programs are designed for “gifted” children. On the other hand, if a student’s scores are low they may be required to attend summer school, be placed in remedial programs, or retained. Edward, a fifth-grader from Roanke Rapids, N.C., worried about the elementary promotion exam he had to take. Eventhough Edward is a B student; he has little confidence in his test-taking abilities. He had nightmares about books and pencils chasing him. Edward and fellow students are aware of the pressures of high-stakes tests. Edward’s teacher knows that if they fail the exam they will not be able to graduate (Cole, 2001). One might conclude that all the achievements the students have accomplished throughout the year is irrelevant.
Mark Sappenfield believes that students should know the basic...