GECON200-Topic #1: Standardized Testing and Unintended Consequences

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, or what is more commonly known as the 2009 Stimulus Package) $4.5 Billion dollars were allocated to the “Race to the Top” fund. The “Race to the Top” fund is intended to improve state education quality and advance education reforms in some key areas. The following two websites give a general description about the Race to the Top fund, and the goals of the program (Race to the Top Description ) and implementation).

The state of Virginia and the District of Columbia are seeking approximately $450 million in funds from the Race to the Top fund. A major tool in the Race to the Top is improved testing. Some of the problems with standardized testing can be shown in Washington D.C. which is using the IMPACT system to help determine student progress and teacher efficacy. The New York Times in 2006 pointed out many of the issues that occur over standardized testing.

Questions you might try to answer:

  • What positives can you think of that might come from standardized testing? Why are so many in favor of standardized testing? What are the ‘unintended consequences’ of keeping the status quo?
  • What are the possible negative consequences of standardized testing. Many articles point out the consequences of moving to standardized testing, and fault teachers when underperforming schools do not improve.
  • What is your opinion on merit pay for teachers when it comes to standardized testing? Why are teacher unions for or against merit pay or standardized testing? What are the benefits from merit pay, and what are the consequences?

When writing your blogs, do NOT simply restate or summarize one of the articles that I give you to look over. You are supposed to be forming an opinion, and trying to defend your opinion using facts that you obtain from an article, which does NOT have to be listed above. If someone else has already used your statistic, you should NOT just use it again. You’re supposed to be finding information here in related articles.

I would like your statements to be as subjective as possible, or in jargon terms, normative in nature. Also, remember, I want you to keep your descriptions short, basic, and related to classroom content. Finally, try to stick to a single topic rather than linking short bits on each of the potential questions I have proposed. The highest scores are typically rewarded to students who form their own questions about a topic. Read other students comments before posting, and please leave your name with your posting.

20 thoughts on “GECON200-Topic #1: Standardized Testing and Unintended Consequences”

  1. Standardized testing is beneficial for record keeping and comparison because of a “baseline” that can be applied to test scores, allowing educational institutions to be compared based on certain test scores. Aside from filing, standardized tests provide little to no value in the educational system. It does make sense, however, than standardized testing is the government’s choice for the educational system. With the education system as large as it is, roughly 96,000 public schools(1), there is no feasible way for the government to make sure schools are upholding the standards required of them by the Race to the Top program. However, the issue is not logistics, it is education. By requiring students to achieve certain scores on tests, the Race to the Top will create a shift in focus in education from actual learning and knowledge retention to a grade achievement focus. Thus, once a test is taken the information is subsequently dropped because the student must prepare for the next test. Those who do not succeed often feel left behind and have a greater 33% probability of dropping out of school when able to do so (2). Standardized testing also depends greatly on the resources available to schools; those with higher income students and thus more funding will have better access to resources and those with less will subsequently have less. This correlates to poor ratings and teacher removal, if job opportunities are based on ratings, that is. Thus, teachers who can teach for a test, but not teach for life, will be hired and paid more than those who may do a better job at instilling and cementing information into students’ minds due to the funds which would depend upon test scores. One school became famous for chanting “Three in a row? No! No! No!” in relation to answer sheet scores and the probability of such an answer chain on a test sheet (2). On a social level, pressure just to pass such tests can lead to cheating and drug use to improve study habits, such as Adderall or Ritalin. While no statistics are available, it is speculated that use of such drugs has increased on campuses due to increased pressure to pass and succeed (3). Standardized tests are much like fast food; their quantity is high, they serve a purpose now and then, but like fast food, an overload of standardized tests can do nothing but harm.

    (1)http://www.infoplease.com/askeds/number-us-public-schools.html (2)http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Test_Problems_Seven/
    (3)http://foghorn.usfca.edu/2008/11/adderall-abused-for-concentration-for-final-exams/

    1. I do not look at it as a bad thing that the Race to the Top program requires students to achieve certain scores on test. On the contrary, I feel that this induces students to work towards a goal and ultimately improve their learning and retaining of knowledge in order to achieve that goal. Sure, students won’t retain 100% of the knowledge they gained through preparation for the exam; however, if a student decides to take the last-minute cramming/”information bulimia” approach then that is their fault and their test scores will reflect upon that lack of proper preparation. An example I like to use is that in order to get into COB 300, students are required maintain a certain GPA. I feel that this process is efficient and effective because it is not only a way to eliminate certain students who don’t put in as much effort from the get go, but also motivates students to work towards a goal and a means of achieving that goal. The key towards preparation for something as big as an admissions test or an important application process is a consistent plan of action so ultimately, a minimal score requirement is a positive aspect of the Race to the Top program.

  2. Standardized testing can help the government to make sure that student in public schools are learning the basic material for their grade. While it is good to measure the ability of the students as a whole, the benefits and consequences of the students performance on the standardized tests puts pressure on the schools and teachers. “The No Child Left Behind Law calls for all public school students to pass state exams in literacy, math and science by 2014” (1). This has created problems, “in some cases, teachers voice fears about losing their jobs, if their students don’t perform well on those standardized tests” (2). Because students learn at different rates those who learn faster than others will be at a disadvantage. The teacher may try to make sure that everyone understands the material fully before proceeding to the next topic, so that everyone can pass the test. This may then lead to teachers teaching strictly to the test. As these teachers are placing their future in the hands of their students performance there is much more incentive to simply teach to the test and pass evaluations than to really teach their students. This is a problem because the tests only cover the basic material a student should know at their level. There is so much more that students who are more advanced than other could learn but because they are kept at the same pace as everyone else, from disabilities to gifted students, they actually learn less than they would if not kept on the same level. While there are more advanced classes in high schools that are not taught to standardized state tests younger students are still put on the same level as everyone else.

    (1) http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20100115/COMMUNITIES/301150006/1203/Morris-schools-fall-short-of-US-standards
    (2) http://thejournal.com/articles/2008/04/10/accountability-yes-teaching-to-the-test-no.aspx

  3. Besides the SATs of course, I thought that standardized tests were a waste of my time, and that they served no purpose but to put a rating on the school, or on a specific program. Overall, my opinion has not been changed since. I believe that standardized tests have no benefit. They are expensive, time consuming, and they are not very beneficial when it comes down to actually teaching a student meaningful information.
    I believe that the solution to the current economic crisis lies within our education system, and that we need to allow more children the opportunity to be educated; however, with standardized tests, we are weakening the actual intellectual capabilities of students for the sole purpose to save time and money. Instead of having real life applications of information, or essays that allow students to form their own opinions, we are slowly making standardized tests multiple-choice only. This saves time and money when it comes down to grading, for they can now just be sent through a machine for pennies per question (1). How is this helping to educate students for the real world? With the increases in pressure for schools to achieve a certain score, more time will be spent in the classroom, and less on recess and other appropriate free time activities, which can lead to negative health consequences and increased stress (2). (I think that Taylor’s statement on these tests leading to an increase in drug use is a little extreme, but I still see the possible negative effect). I do not believe that teachers should be evaluated based on their student’s scores either, because the goal of a teacher is not to teach how to do well on one specific test. If they are stressed about getting a good rating, then they will begin to only care about if the students get the answers correct, rather than if they are actually retaining or learning the material. One of the rating categories states that students should be instilled with the idea that “hard work leads to success” (3). However, I feel that with this system (teacher’s job securities depending on standardized test scores) students will work less hard due to a lack of care and interest.

    (1): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/22/education/22education.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
    (2): http://www.brighthub.com/education/k-12/articles/16137.aspx?p=2
    (3): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/30/AR2009093004729.html

  4. All I thought about as I read these articles, is being able to memorize and retain information, to spit it back out exactly as you learned it, really showing that a student has learned something? I believe that being able to take that information and produce it into something using more critically thinking skills, shows that a student has actually learned something more than just memorizing. A test that only requires memorizing is not a good way to measure if a student has learned something because, “test scores (on the annual standardized state test) are like the closing prices on the stock exchange. They fluctuate for any number of reasons.” (1) Standardized tests are unreliable and do not show a school’s ability to really teach students what education should be about: critical thinking skills.

    Standardized tests have changed from being challenging essay questions to now only containing multiple choice questions, mostly as a way to save time and money. (2) This would not be so bad if the multiple choice questions involved a little bit of using your brain, but instead the majority of them ask “what is a ____?” instead of possibly asking “which is more vital to a _____’s survival?” Needing to compare and contrast while using information to do that, is what I feel educators should focus on. If standardized tests included more of these questions, then I would support them, but the types of questions on them take away from the fact that these tests could show the growth of learning in schools, lessening of the gap between class and race, and/or allow for improvements in underprivileged school systems.

    A good way to judge whether a teacher is really capable of teaching students is to observe them. However, observations can be skewed as some teachers only plan for that day, changing how they normally teach, just to impress who is watching them. Teachers who understand what learning is really about can teach material in a way where all students can follow, whether through auditory, visually, or tactile. (3) Teachers should also help their students make connections with the material being learned, and not just be able to spit it back out when asked. (1) A teacher should not get paid on merit pay but more based on how well their students do overall throughout the whole year or semester, not just on one standardized test; bonuses should not be issued for good scores on a test. (3)

    Standardized tests are changing how children learn, affecting how well they obtain information and what they do with that information. Along with this, standardized tests and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act(ARRA) were created to help improve education to improve the economic health. (4) Instead, they have just furthered America’s overall ability to understand what learning really is.

    (1) http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/16/opinion/oe-lantos16
    (2) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/22/education/22education.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
    (3) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/30/AR2009093004729_2.html
    (4) http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/implementation.html

  5. Standardized testing not only a benefit to the government but also to teachers and students across the country. “Standardized testing gives teachers guidance to help them determine what to teach students and when to teach it” (1). With the test results of their respective schools, teachers can see what subjects their students performed poorly on and can then determine what topic(s) they should put more focus on. However, this does not mean that teachers should solely focus on the subjects that appear on these tests. A teacher’s goal should be to educate students fairly and successfully. Standardized test results can be used as a resource to achieve this goal.

    The government not only uses standardized testing scores for comparison, but they also see it as a benefit to society. In the eyes of an economist, standardized testing can be thought of as a positive externality. “A well educated labour force can increase efficiency and produce other important social benefits” (2). So if the country as a whole is well-educated, the entire economy can benefit from it.

    Even though students look towards standardized testing as the spawn of Satan, they are necessary in one’s academic career and are a benefit to the government, teachers, and society.

    Sources:
    1.http://www.brighthub.com/education/k-12/articles/16137.aspx
    2.http://tutor2u.net/economics/content/topics/externalities/positive_externalities.htm

    1. I see standardized testing as more of a negative externality rather than a positive one. Yes, education is a positive externality, with all of society benefiting from another’s intellect and what they contribute to society; however, I feel as though standardized testing can only decrease this gain. With these tests, more students are soley focused on earning a certain score. There is no individuality being praised. There are no opinions being formed. There is little or no real world analysis being practiced. With these consequences, our society wil be made up of people who are only focused on the end product. No “above and beyond” work will be created becuase it is not valued. Where is the benefit in that?
      I do agree that some form of “standard” is needed for teachers and students to be evaluated by, but I do not think that this is the best way. Does anyone have any other possible solutions?

      1. I feel that “above and beyond” work can still be appreciated as a result of standardized testing. Many rewards/scholarships are given out to those who score high on standardized tests such as the PSAT, and if you feel like the SAT itself is not challenging enough, you can always take the subject tests which show academic merit on a more intensified level. 🙂

      2. There are more forms of standardized testing than those used to compare students and rate them. There are also “criterion-referenced tests, used to measure student performance against a defined set of learning requirements or expectations” (1). These are used to test students on their knowledge of certain subjects relative to their age/grade. If there is a “below average” result in a certain subject, the government can then fund more money to the areas that need more focus. Because more money is funded into these certain academic areas, this benefits education, and because it benefits education it can be seen as a positive externality.

        Sources:
        1. http://www.pearsonedmeasurement.com/research/faq_1a.htm

      3. I understand the benefits of such tests like the SATs and PSATs. These offer scholarships, like Ranna mentioned, and they also contain essay questions, and free response math questions. Because of these components, students are going to be more likely to take them seriously, and yes, this education can be seen as a positive externality.
        To clarify, I see the negative consequences from such tests coming as the tests are slowly converted to multiple choice only. If the government is only focused on saving time and money, then this will be the result, and standardized tests will become hurtful to our education system.

      4. The SATs carry wait too much weight when it comes to college admissions. It is known as “THE TEST” that makes or breaks you as a prospectus college student. It is enlightening to see that many college insitutions are starting to eliminate such standarized tests as a measure of student intelligence and college sucess. (i.e. Wake Forest) Further, the SATs no longer do what they intend to do, which is to measure intelligence. There are many private programs (Kaplan, Princeton Review) that help students score better on these tests by providing them testing strategies. If this does not show that the SATs are not solely measuring intelligence or even academic competency, I don’t know what does. It is obvious the SATs and other standarized tests score do not solely measures the academic skills. Although I will agree that students who perform well on the SATs will go on to do well in college, but for those who do not perform as well, it does not mean that they will not have equal or high academic success in college.

      5. Brian, I definitely agree with what you said towards the end of your comment! Those who don’t perform well on standardized tests can still make it through college and be quite successful. But there is a correlation between GPA and standardized testing. Statistics from Collegeboard show that in 2007, college bound seniors with a high school GPA up to B+ scored below the mean scores for all students, while students with a GPA of A-, A, and A+ scored above the mean (1). This shows that there is in fact a level of academic merit reflected upon students after taking the SAT.

        “Further, the SATs no longer do what they intend to do, which is to measure intelligence.”

        To this I say that standardized tests were never created to quantitatively measure a student’s academic ability. STANDARDized tests were created simply to offer a way to gauge whether the educational minimums were being met within the classroom. To that end, I believe the tests perform very well. Institutions shouldn’t have to completely get rid of tests such as the SAT. If we wanted the SAT’s to give results like an IQ test, then the SAT’s would be just that, an IQ test. The problem isn’t with the tests but rather how they are used and our perceptions of them. Also, standardized testing is not the sole factor that colleges look at in determining how qualified you are as a person to get into their university. Other factors such as challenging courses, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, well-written essays, and GPA also play a huge role in determining who you are as a person (2). Therefore, the SAT is not really “THE TEST” that makes you or breaks you as a prospectus college student.

        Sources:

        (1) http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/cbsenior/yr2007/tables/17.pdf

        (2) http://www.educationalconsulting.org/PDF/IECA_CollegeTopTenList.pdf

  6. “Not everyone has the same chance to be prepared for standardized testing.”

    This seems to be a huge concern for assailants of standardized testing. When mocking Harvey P. Moyer’s “Songs of Socialism,” which encouraged children to take a socialist view in politics, Glenn Beck states, “You see, we’re very lucky to be living in a nation that knows rewarding hard work will encourage innovation. For there are many people who, when offered an incentive will use their brains and brawn to be amazingly inventive” (1).

    On a macro level, incentives are used constantly as means to achieving a goal. For example, your incentive for working hard and scoring well on the SAT may be admittance to the college of your choice. On a micro level, one may say that school systems containing a demographic of individuals who are wealthy have better funding to buy text books in preparation for the SAT or offer an SAT Prep course, while school systems containing students who come from less wealthy families may not be able to afford to do so. However, there are many online resources one may use to boost their vocabulary and prepare for the SAT. Sparknotes is a great source. Even Collegeboard, the same association that administers those expensive SAT Prep courses offers free services in preparation for the SAT, such as the “SAT Question of the Day,” along with free sample practice questions(2). One must realize that there are plenty of other options for students and they don’t need to resort to failing or cheating or using drugs. One may ask, “What if they’re so poor that they don’t have a computer or internet access?” Well, they can always use a computer lab at their school, and if there aren’t computers provided, they can walk to the library. All an inner city student needs to succeed is exactly what a suburban-dwelling student needs: the drive to pass. The desire to succeed cannot be taught, forced, or enlightened upon anyone without they too themselves first wanting success for themselves. Some people will work hard for what they want in life, some won’t. This is fact.

    Sources:
    (1) http://books.simonandschuster.com/Arguing-with-Idiots/Glenn-Beck/9781416595014/excerpt_with_id/14579
    (2) http://sat.collegeboard.com/practice

  7. Connecting teacher pay to students’ standardized test scores is not a good idea, at least not if test scores are the only factor that goes into deciding who does and does not receive merit-based pay. Washington D.C.’s new IMPACT evaluation system is a good example of a flawed system in which fifty percent of the teachers’ evaluations are based on student test scores on state-mandated tests (2). Washington’s Teachers’ Union president, George Parker, refused to sign D.C.’s application for the Race to the Top program because he sees the weight given to test scores as “arbitrary” because the school system has yet to give teachers the basic support needed for successful learning environments(2). It is appropriate for unions to resist supporting plans such as these if they are not designed to accurately evaluate teachers and help them improve their skills. Parker is accurate in saying that systems such as IMPACT are “instruments to identify and remove struggling teachers, not a means to help them improve”(3). Some unions might be willing to endorse such programs because of the obvious possible benefit of increased salaries for educators. However, the issue is not whether or not merit-based payment programs are okay, but rather how this “merit” should be determined. A system that relies totally or predominately on student scores on standardized tests is not the best instrument to use for this.
    Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that merit pay for teachers is his “highest priority” (1). Thomas Toch is correct in saying that this can be cause for concern. He says that it is a myth to think that “student test scores offer a simple solution to the evaluation problem” for determining who receives payment (1). Under 50 percent of teachers actually teach the subjects and grades that are tested, which makes a fair system impossible (1). Also, teachers who teach their classes how to analyze and apply what they know are at a disadvantage because their students might not perform as well on a standardized exam, therefore depriving some of the most deserving teachers of payment. Toch says that a very small percentage of teachers are okay with student test scores influence pay levels, however if evaluations include “how well teachers plan, teach, manage, and motivate,” teachers are much more open to allowing performance to influence their salaries. (1) As states begin to formulate and implement new evaluation programs in accordance with the Obama administration’s new Race to the Top plan, they cannot allow standardized test scores to be what influences the payment of educators. If merit-based pay is included in programs, it must be fair and include actual evaluations of classrooms and should give teachers feedback on what to improve rather than acting as a system to simply single-out struggling teachers to be fired.
    (1)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/09/AR2009100902571.html
    (2)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/19/AR2010011901642.html?hpid=topnews
    (3)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/30/AR2009093004729.html

  8. I believe its about time that teachers are seriously held accountable for their job performance. Currently teachers have job security that is unparalleled even though some are poor at their profession. In other areas such as sales employees are held accountable to strict quotas. Teachers should feel the same pressure to perform especially when they are in a field that is so important for the future of our nation. D.C proposes a new way for evaluating teachers. Of five 30min evaluations, two will be done by master educators. This is innovative because the master educators will have expertise in the subject area that the teacher works in and teacher’s relationships with their administrators will not affect their rankings as much as at the current time. (1) But 50% of the evaluation score will depend on standardized test scores. This is controversial among teachers unions. (2)They do have a valid point. Standardized testing is not a perfect way of measuring the success of teachers but I do believe it is accurate enough. ‘Teaching to the test’ can only occur if tests are written in certain ways where children are expected to spew certain facts. The tests should be written in such ways were application is important, with open ended questions rather than multiple choice. I believe once testing is improved teachers should be held accountable. If a teacher’s students are not performing, even after a teacher receives professional development, they should be fired. We cannot afford to have mediocre educators.

    1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/30/AR2009093004729_2.html
    2 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/19/AR2010011901642.html?hpid=topnews

    1. What is mediocre? What are the standard for test scores? I really have trouble understanding why we need some sort of program or test that tests academic competency or even teaching ability. Standarized tests have shown to be inaccruate in depicting academic levels. It deters independent learning and forces teachers and students to follow a narrow minded approach to learning. Instead, there has to be individual programs within school systems that would be able to evaulate student and teacher success.

  9. “There’s only one thing worse than requiring students to reduce all learning to a single “correct” answer, and that is reducing assessment and accountability to a single standardized test.” (1) While there are critics on both sides of the argument, personally I feel the evidence against schools using standardized testing to assess students’ education far outweighs that of the pro arguments. Even more so, with programs such as IMPACT in DC where the teachers’ salaries and even jobs are equivocated to these tests, I think standardized testing does more harm than good. First, in regards to the students, applying one broad, general standard to all seems to oversimplify the education process. Rather than encouraging students to strive to learn to the best of their potential, these tests encourage students to simply memorize the basic facts and answers and then simply regurgitate them come test day. “Standardized tests oversimplify knowledge and do not test higher-order thinking skills…One-size-fits-all standards either dumb down instruction to the lowest common denominator or condemn low-ability students to frequent failure” (2) Secondly, in regards the teachers’ and the actual classroom teaching, this approach seems to favor one of punitive measure rather than one that encourages learning to the highest degree. Other than the obvious motive of saving money, lawmakers appear to be adopting a viewpoint of “we’re going to make the kids perform better…or else”. The obvious flaw in this mode of thinking is that fear of consequence rarely motivates people to perform their best; rather it promotes aiming to just get by. “The goal is not to flunk kids, not to wave fingers at lousy teachers, not to make bold pronouncements that will be remembered at election time, not to give kids more of the same even though it didn’t work the first time — but to provide information to help the student learn better.” (1) All in all, the high degree of assessment that the Race to the Top program places on standardized tests seems like it would do more harm than good.
    (1) http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/13_03/assess.shtml
    (2) http://www.ernweb.com/public/892.cfm

  10. Before we can even consider the issue of standardized testing, we must first look at the correlation between government spending and performance of public school students. (The following statistics are from 1999, but more recent statistics have reflect the same pattern, just with larger dollar amounts) New Jersey and Washington, D.C. spend the most on each individual student, $10,900 and $10,300 per year respectively. Yet, New Jersey ranks 29th in student performance and Washington, D.C. holds the second to last spot (1). This money pays for higher teacher salaries as well as smaller class sizes, which are 14 students per class for New Jersey and 13.7 students for Washington, D.C. Class sizes in Japan are more than double American averages, yet Japan performs much better than American students. What it all boils down to is how we view education. There is a common expectation in America that teachers and schools are responsible for educating our kids (mainly because of our reliance on a public school system). But in reality, true education can only occur through personal dedication and hard work. The students are responsible for their own success, not teachers, schools, states, or the federal government. Reducing education to preparation for standardized tests distorts and narrows education (3). Instead of trying to understand the world better, kids are just trying to achieve a number on a piece of paper.

    That being said, many of the initiatives proposed by the ARRA’s Race to the Top program are like the pandas of the animal kingdom: they are unlikely to survive and are extremely costly with no real benefit to the environment. The Race to the Top program includes more standardized testing and draconian evaluation systems for teachers and administrators (2) that will once again lead our nation even further away from finding the true key to learning. Throwing more money at the problem will not solve it, but rather leave us wondering why our country’s school system continues to produce inferior results compared to other nations. A change in culture and perception of education is the only way America will solve its education problems.

    1. http://economics.gmu.edu/wew/articles/99/More-Money.htm
    2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/19/AR2010011901642.html?hpid=topnews
    3. http://www.fairtest.org/facts/howharm.htm

  11. Overall, standardized testing seems entirely overvalued and horribly misused to me. In all of my experience as a student, and in everything that I have ever read about the subject, the supposed benefits of standardized testing are like idealistic dreams…they do not seem to be entirely possible in the real world.

    For the most part standardized tests “are intended to show us what skills or knowledge students have mastered” or “are designed to predict how well test-takers will perform in future settings, such as when they get to college” or “are supposed to let us know how well a particular group of students, such as those in a given school, have been taught” (1). There IS a need to measure the effectiveness and quality of school systems, and some few tests fill these expectations, but many others do not. The notorious standardized tests that I grew up with (and grew to disdain) were the Virginia SOLs, described by the official Virginia Department of Education website as “…rigorous academic standards, known as the Standards of Learning (SOL)…measures achievement through annual SOL tests and alternative and alternate assessments. The system provides schools, school divisions and the Virginia Department of Education with critical data to inform the development and implementation of effective instructional strategies and best practices” (2). As far as how well the SOLs actually improved education in my public school system…here are a few problems I had with the system then and now: First of all, the tests we were given from grade 3 to grade 12 were a far cry from “rigorous.” It was a joke in high school for everyone to go into certain SOL tests we were absolutely required to take and do them as fast as we could or to write the most ridiculous responses possible for the writing sections…and then laugh when we got near perfect scores back. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) describes one part of its goal to improve schools as “providing funds to close the achievement gap” (3); this is supposed to mean, helping students who struggle to achieve high marks in classes or on standardized tests to improve and grow–bumping up the statistics of students passing the standardized tests, but in reality it really comes to dumbing down the tests. No matter how many special programs a school puts through, no matter how good the teachers are, there are ALWAYS students that simply do not/cannot do well on the tests. No matter how much we want to inspire every single individual in society to seek to be as well educated as possible or how much we want every kid in school to be able to pass the standardized tests, it all comes down in the individuals…and there are just some people that DO NOT CARE about how they do on some test they were forced into or in anything at school. I can understand that the states and the federal government want to change this, but being realistic means accepting that it is the choice of the student whether or not they do well in school or do well on a standardized test and there will always be students that CHOOSE not to do try. So, since it is impossible to ever completely “close the gap” as ARRA requests (and No Child Left Behind did before it), instead of trying to bring the students who are behind up to scratch, states, like Virginia, bring the tests down to the students who are behind. The tests are easier, so more students pass, and the gap “closes.” And that is why I, and many other people, rolled our eyes at how EASY the tests were. We never felt need to try to pass those tests; so for every student who is average or above, those tests do nothing to encourage higher goals or intense study. And that leads to another problem the tests engender; the tests are supposed to set a baseline for all the things a student should know on a subject, but students and teachers alike take the SOL requirements not as a baseline, but as a MINIMUM! I had teachers that would only teach as much as they were required by the SOLs. Everywhere a state or school system sets baseline requirements, there are teachers who ONLY teach those base requirements. Such standards DO succeed in making sure that every school in a state or school system meets an acceptable level of education, but is “just acceptable” really improved education? As some would point out, there are some standardized tests that “perform their measurement mission marvelously,” while I have had more experience with the “others [that] do a dismal job of it” (1), but overall, there are many flaws to depending on standardized testing as a way to measure quality and accessibility of education.

    As to whether or not teacher’s pay should be judged on a merit system or on the scores of standardized testing…there certainly a great deal of gray area. Considering the impossibility issues with “closing the gap” and how pressure to meet specific standards almost comes to dictate what and/or how a teacher teaches, it is almost sadistic to even consider basing a teachers’ pay entirely on testing scores. If for some reason an usually large number of students decide that they just do not want to try on their standardized tests–in some of my experiences, the proctors of standardized tests were instructed to walk around and try to induce students who looked they were not trying to do work harder, but in the end it is up to the student to actually take the test–and the scores are poor, then no matter how much a teacher tried or how well they taught, they will suffer. If a teacher’s pay is solely dependent on how well the students do on a standardized test, then the teacher is highly unlikely to teach anything other than exactly what will be on that standardized test and will push students to put more emphasis on doing well on the tests than on actually learning the material. On the other hand, disregarding standardized tests completely would be unwise. If the scores are drastically worse than previous scores, then that could a good indicator that teachers need to be re-evaluated on an individual level and the schools programs re-evaluated on the broad level. There is a place for standardized testing in evaluating the worth and effectiveness of a school or the teachers, but using standardized tests as a major deciding point in salaries like a threat hanging over teachers’ and schools’ heads seems unreasonable to me.

    (1): http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/20/what-should-be-done-about-standardized-tests-a-freakonomics-quorum/
    (2): http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml
    (3) http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/implementation.html

  12. Although standardized testing aims to maintain an academic standard, it has destroyed many students’ drive and motivation to learn. Students are forced to learn material and subject matter that they may not be interested in but must still learn if they want to follow their peers into the next grade level. The joys of reading or solving complex math problems have been overshadowed by the heavy burden of memorization and course work prescribed essentially by legislators and school board officials who see standardized testing as an efficient means to measuring student knowledge. And as standardized testing becomes even more “standardized (multiple choice testing),” the concept of learning is more and more distorted (1). The standard has been lowered by these multiple choice tests and standardized testing in general no longer consists of analytical thinking but instead memorization and recognition (2). Students are taught to recognize patterns from previous practice standardized tests and be prepared for certain questions on their tests. Teachers are forced to revolve their curriculum around the material on the tests. In this aspect, learning has become the equivalent of replication and no longer innovation.

    Economically, funding that is aimed towards standardized testing is insufficient in providing tests that are able to measure many dimensions of knowledge. As a result, states are resorting to “simpler,” “easier” and essentially cheaper forms of testing (1). When funding is limited and is unable to supply the necessary resources, we must seek alternatives that may be better for the academic education of students instead of a continued support of a system that can only be partially supported.

    (1): http://www.nytimes.com/glogin?URI=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/22/education/22education.html&OQ=_rQ3D1&OP=18f0087cQ2FAz2Q7EAH8LQ26e88XNAN99@A9Q51ANNA2HsLQ5DXR8Q3BANN2HsLQ5DXR8Q3BS_XkE
    (2): http://docereestdiscere.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/motivation-and-standardized-testing/

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