State and International Assessment
Assessment is the driving force behind every aspect of teaching today. There is an increasing focus on grades, as well as a growing concern for US performance, in schools compared to others abroad. As a result, standards of learning have not only been developed for each state, but are now being strictly enforced as well. This has caused much controversy over the effectiveness and legitimacy of the standards and over their consequences. By examining various educational resources, in addition to speaking with teachers and administrators, contrasting views become clearer.
According to current research, international assessments can be a strong indicator of national performance and a valuable tool for reform. They can provide invaluable insight into the factors related to high achievement in schools. The largest and most well- known international assessment was called the TIMSS. TIMSS, which stands for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, is "the most extensive and far-reaching cross-national comparison study of mathematics and science education ever attempted" (Schmidt et al, 1999). Forty-one countries participated in comparing official curricula, textbooks, teacher practices and student achievement. The TIMSS data took form in three different ways: achievement results, document analysis, and responses to survey questions. The students’ tests were conducted in the third, fourth, seventh, and eighth grades, as well as for students in the last year of secondary school. The most recent TIMSS testing ranked the US slightly above the international average in eighth grade science. However, fourth grade tied for second in overall science scores. While TIMSS examine how well students mastered a subject, a new form of testing put out by PISA (Program for International Assessment) attempts to gauge cumulative knowledge and cross-curricular competencies at a high-school level. International testing, such as the TIMSS, has shown us that rigorous content, focused curriculum, and good teaching are all critical to improved national performance.
As for state assessment, Virginia tests students’ knowledge of science by administering the Standards of Learning (SOL) test in grades three, five, and eight, as well as in high school Earth science, biology, and chemistry. In some areas, promotion to grades four, six, and nine is contingent upon student performance on these SOL tests. Graduation from high school may also depend on students passing two SOL science tests. School districts within the state of Virginia are required to provide additional academic support for students who perform poorly on these tests. The state allocates special funding for such intervention programs. There are eight standard-setting committees that recommend the guidelines for interpreting score ranges. However, Virginia’s Board of Education makes the final decision on which...