Views on Standardized Testing
Standardized testing has long been a controversial method of assessment in our schools. Such tests are important indicators of student achievement and aptitude. However, some standardized test scores have been misused as a manner in which to track students, allocate school funds, and even determine teacher pay. Standardized tests, when used appropriately and for the right reasons, can adequately determine a student's present level of strengths and weaknesses and his or her aptitude for certain abilities.
There are two basic types of achievement assessments: norm-referenced and criterion referenced. In a norm-referenced test, a student's scores are compared to other students' scores to determine how the child is performing in relation to others his age (Woolfolk, A., 2004). A criterion-referenced test compares a student's scores to a set standard, not to other test takers. Criterion-referenced tests usually measure specific objectives and are helpful to teachers because they measure specific academic strengths and weaknesses (Woolfolk, A., 2004).
Included in these types of assessments are the three types of standardized tests: achievement, aptitude, and diagnostic (Woolfolk, A., 2004). The achievement test measures how much of the material has been mastered. Tests such as the ACT, ITBS, and ITED are all norm-referenced, achievement tests (Woolfolk, A., 2004). These tests measure mastery of such areas as reading comprehension, math computation, and verbal skills, along with social studies and sciences (Woolfolk, A., 2004). The aptitude test is used to predict future performance by testing abilities which have been developed over many years (Woolfolk, A., 2004). The SAT and the IQ test are examples of aptitude tests. One's score on the SAT is said to be a good indicator of his or her future performance in the first year of college, while the IQ test indicates scholastic aptitude or a student's ability to solve certain problems involved in schoolwork (www.a2zpsychology).
Finally, the diagnostic test score indicates the student's specific strengths and weaknesses. Elementary school teachers may use diagnostic tests to determine a learning problem or measure other abilities which students need in order to "learn, remember, and communicate learning" (Woolfolk, A., 529).
The achievement, aptitude, and diagnostic tests have proven helpful for teachers in determining how students are performing in relation to a similar group of students. The tests have been standardized after it has been administered to a norm sample, used, and revised enough times to convey consistent average levels of performance on which to use for comparison (www.a2zpsychology.com). Teachers and parents can use standardized test scores to compare how their student/child is performing in relation to others in his or her grade level. Teachers may use standardized test scores to determine the learning abilities of their students as well as test what their students have mastered in a particular subject (www.a2zpsychology.com). These tests are also important because they can be used as one aspect of admittance to special programs, such as special education classes or gifted education classes.
Standardized tests can be useful for a number of reasons. Individual students, classes, and schools use standardized tests to determine performance in relation to the norm. They provide a measure of student achievement; however, this test is just one measure of achievement, and not representative of all mastered abilities. These tests can serve as rough guides to determine if a child is ready to advance to another grade or level (Woolfolk, A., 2004). Again, standardized tests should not be the sole determinant for advancement. Other factors such as teacher recommendations, emotional readiness, and classroom work should all be taken into consideration when advancing or retaining a student. Standardized tests may also be used as a way for teachers to approach the curriculum (Woolfolk, A., 2004). While this is somewhat of a controversial practice, teachers can avoid "teaching to the test" by spending more time reviewing the areas that prove to be weaknesses for the students, and spending less time on obvious strengths. In this way, standardized tests are used diagnostically, and not as a curriculum guide.
Standardized tests may not be appreciated today because of the manners in which scores were abused in the past. As mentioned, tests can be used to determine course placement or retention, but not as a sole determinant. According to Eric Reed, a doctoral student for the University of Iowa College of Education, when standardized test scores alone are used to determine course placement, it becomes a form of pigeonholing students, and not as an indicator of strengths and weaknesses (Reed, 10/21/03). Teaching to the test is another way standardized tests can be abused. When teachers construct their curriculum around only what is to be tested, students are deprived of exploratory learning (Hlebowitsh, 11/21/03). Important learning opportunities such as multicultural education and enrichment learning are often nonexistent in curriculum which teaches to the test. Test scores should not be stressed or emphasized to parents as an ultimate failure or success of their child (Woolfolk, A., 2004). The score is only one indicator of mastery, and should be presented to parents as such. A major abuse of standardized testing involves allocating school funds or teacher pay through test scores (Woolfolk, A., 2004). Using high stakes tests for the allocation of funding, or to encourage accountability through teacher pay is a serious abuse and misuse of a test never meant for such utilization.
Standardized tests have been criticized because of their limitations and their influence. Because American schools are not centralized, subjects are taught at different times, using different methods. Because of a decentralized system, students may encounter certain subject matter on the test which may not have been covered in the class (Hlebowitsh, 11/21/03). These tests have also been criticized as penalizing a student with expert knowledge of a certain subject matter (www.a2zpsychology.com). The student may find a flaw in an answer which the test states is correct. A main criticism of standardized testing is that it is biased toward minority children (Woolfolk, A., 2004). Some students may be unfamiliar with wording, phrases, or terms used in passages of the test. Bias in testing has become a serious debate among educators. Reed does not believe tests are biased, because those who form test questions carefully examine every question for any trace of racial, or gender bias (Reed, 10/21/03). Also, these tests are said to "lag behind" new ideals on educational thought and practice (www.a2zpsychology.com). If the test questions fail to measure new advances in specific subject areas, testing could hinder educational progress.
After discussing and researching this topic, I feel that standardized tests should be used as a diagnostic measure. Without a doubt, test scores should never be used to determine teacher pay or school funding. Such practices are blatant abuses of testing. This would only lead to teaching to the test and would ultimately disadvantage and shortchange the student's education. Scores should not be used as a sole indicator to pigeonhole students in a low track or vocation, or be a sole indicator of college placement or scholarship. One must be careful not to teach to the test by deeming the test material of utmost importance, while deeming the non-test material (musical and athletic ability, social skills, and multicultural education) of second-rate education. In my classroom, even in light of No Child Left Behind, test scores determine only one aspect of academic performance.
In conclusion, there are many other intelligences out there that standardized tests do not measure. Placing too much emphasis on standardized tests, whether for high stakes or accountability purposes, takes the enjoyment out of the learning process. Teachers should review ITBS and ITED scores to determine student strengths and weaknesses as compared to other students of the same grade level, and provide help and assistance for those struggling, and enrichment opportunities for those excelling. For my classroom, effort on authentic assessments and work/progress portfolios will trump any standardized test score. Learning should be fun, and filled with many opportunities to explore and discover new and exciting ideas.
Hlebowitsh, Peter S. (Lecture). (2003, November 21). Foundations of American Education (2nd ed.). Wadsworth: University of Iowa Press.
Importance of Testing in Psychology and Education. (2002). Retrieved November 30, 2003, from http://www.a2zpsychology.com/articles/importance_of_testing_in_psychol.htm.
Reed, Eric. (Doctoral Student for University of Iowa College of Education). (Lecture).
Multiculturalism and the Testing Debate. Human Relations for the Classroom Teacher. (2003, October 21).
Woolfolk, Anita. (2004). Educational Psychology. (9th ed). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.