How Standardized Testing Became an Ideology to Improve National Educational Practices

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi  Photo Source: Fabian Pittroff via Flickr & The Altantic

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi

Photo Source: Fabian Pittroff via Flickr & The Altantic

Within the 1950s, standardized testing became a concept to improve educational practices and testing scores. American psychologist, Edward Thorndike, believed if students were aware of test taking and understood the concept of using the tool for educational improvement, test taking could affect scores (American Public University System [APUS], 2018). It was during this era that other psychologists and theorists believed if students were taught to comprehend testing measures and had the capability to retain subject matter, it would improve overall methods of teaching and testing. This concept is dubbed as “testwiseness,” meaning students can choose the correct answer without necessarily knowing it (educated guest) (University of Kansas, n.d.). This is essentially where standardized testing came to fruition. 

Standardized testing is formulated by experts who are considered test makers and such tests are for a group of people for a specific purpose (Aiken & Groth-Marnat, 2006). It is a fundamental purpose to ensure students understand the information that is taught over a specific timeframe, which adds value to their education and increases their level of test taking abilities. However, there is much criticism about these types of tests. Aiken and Groth-Marnat (2006) state even though more than half the American population are high school graduates, standardized testing scores reflect significant deficiencies. There continues to be challenges on how students perform in the following areas: reading, writing, science, mathematics, history, civics, to name a few (Aiken & Groth-Marnat, 2006). 

Low tests scores have been recorded by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and it was a concern that high school graduates would not be prepared for college. Based on the dilemma, most states changed their requirements for graduation based on minimum competency and literacy. Nevertheless, there was much debate on the new requirements to earn a high school diploma. Jencks and Phillips (1998) expressed African American students scored lower than European American high school students on national standardized tests in vocabulary, reading, and math. According to the authors, the academic gap is noted prior to kindergarten and is consistent throughout childhood. Another concern is standardized testing standards are predicated on minimal level competency levels, which does not give students the opportunity to excel by revising testing to fit curriculum that is relevant to the student’s grade level. For example, my daughter completed standardized testing for six grade in only math and reading/comprehension while seventh and eighth grades tested in math, science, history, and reading/comprehension. Based on the scores, students were either mandated summer school to retake the test and if they still did not pass after a second attempt, resulted in repeating the same grade. I believe there is a concern that standardized testing is primarily correlated to the grade level and not prepping students for the future for high school graduation and college. 

Another concern is there are schools that have educator teach information just to satisfy testing requirements at the end of the year, which can cause problems based on what materials should be taught for a specific grade level. I believe some of the criticism addressed are valid. Being an educator and the parent of middle schooler, I understand the importance of standardized testing, but also believe there should be reform to ensure test taking is fair, brings out the best potential in a student, and increases levels of learning. As I mentioned about teachers teaching testing material throughout the year, this is something that I have heard about through faculty, who teach at secondary schools. Because there are rewards for educational institutions (i.e. additional funding, increase in salaries, recognition etc.), some school’s entire mission is to receive the highest scores on testing. I do not believe this is unfair and it a disservice to students. Also, I believe standardized tests do not accurately showcase ALL students’ abilities. There are some students who are not good test takers, but are academically intelligent and have much potential.

In 2014, Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, created Schools of Opportunity, an organization to bridge the gaps in education through “research-proven” practices and not standardized testing (Strauss, 2017). SOP’s purpose was to assess high schools through discipline policies, health, and psychological support, and the curriculum that is provided to student throughout the year. This project was a pilot study for New York and Colorado. By 2015, SOP went national and opened opportunities for schools across the United States. California, Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Oregon received gold and silver awards for their efforts in the program. The Council of Chief State School Officers and some of the nation’s largest school districts have expressed to Congress about lessening the amount of standardized testing throughout the year (Kamenetz, 2015). Though educators believe in annual testing, there are concerns that it may be overwhelming and there should be alternatives to satisfy the requirement. 

Some agencies rely on such testing because it gives them an idea of where individuals stand for a particular area. For example, if the military wants to test the knowledge of service members on the history and customs/courtesies, I believe this would be a beneficial tool to test their knowledge without studying. As a result, it will show strengths and weaknesses on topics-- what needs to be covered and what members have a grasp on. It is also a good strategy because if service members have been in for a specific period of time, they can make educated guesses based on what they know "not" to be true and then weigh answers that could be possible versus those that are exact. For example, taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to join the military was painstaking, as the test was based on concepts I learned in high school while some information I did not have a clue (like mechanics and engineering). Once I graduated from basic training, I continued higher education within the military and had to take standardized tests for educational and professional advancement. I did not like the fact that promotion was based on testing, as I do not believe all individuals are good test takers. There were members I believed would be great leaders, but because they did not test well, they could not be promoted while those who are great test takers would promote and would not have sufficient tools and experience to lead. I believe all military test are based on the "testwisness" strategy because there is so much information that is included on these tests that people will be undecided on what is the correct answer because they second-guess themselves. 

           Everyone has had to take some type of standardized test during their educational journey. It is unrealistic for students to test on information that was taught from the beginning of the school year and then be expected to retain such information while learning curriculum requirements each school period. Colleagues cited information from National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which is vehemently against standardized testing. The purpose of this organization is to emphasize fair alternatives in testing for students while identifying shortcomings and misuse of testing practices (n.d., para. 1). Because this is their mission and they do not support standardized testing, it is important to implement protocol to ensure testing is administered appropriately.

            The National Education Association is considered the nation’s largest professional that focuses on public education. Their mission is to “advocate for education professionals and to unify our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world” (National Education Association [NEA], 2017, para. 3). The organization has been fed up with the testing standards and took a position to end the misuse and abuse of test taking throughout the nation. The organization’s goal was to “end the abuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them” (NEA, 2017, para. 1). With that said, we have seen many organizations and advocate groups against better educational standards and testing to make sure it conforms to the need of the student, but we really do not see change. Is there an issue with implementation and/or enforcement? Are there other underlying changes as to why we continue to see the same testing standards and no improvement? 

I read an article where three court justices decided a controversy ruling on standardized testing in Florida. The justices believed standardized reading tests were more beneficial than the work students complete throughout the school year. The decision made determined if students would advance from the third to the fourth grade (Strauss, 2017). This became a problem because students of varying abilities were impacted by the decision. Even honor students, who did not pass the annual testing, were held back in the third grade, and I believe this is where the problem begins. As a result, parents sued the school districts about the decision. The case was heard at the circuit court where the judge decided students who were not promoted was a wrong decision. The judge stated:

The purpose of ELA is to assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional instruction before (and after) being promoted to fourth grade…the test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer of its questions to the best of student’s ability. Anything less is a disservice to the student – and the public (Strauss, 2017, para. 4). 

            I also found a research study that examined the association between the classroom organizational structure and test scores of fifth grade math students in Mississippi. Results concluded there was not any “significant difference” between standardized testing between students in a self-contained classroom compared to those in a departmentalized classroom (Lane, 2017). Teachers did not have a distinct opinion about either environment and believed standardized testing did not make an impact on which classroom, even though there was favoritism towards departmentalization. It is research studies like this that make me wonder the effective of standardized testing and should there be educational reform against testing to eliminated much inflation of the test? Or just do away with it entirely.

References

Aiken, L. R. & Groth-Marnat, G. (2006). Psychological Testing and Assessment. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Group, Inc. 

American Public University. (2018). PSYC502: Week 2 lesson. Retrieved from https://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/387829/tool/6156a533-ceaf-4256-84eb-b640bfd94f56/ShowPage?returnView=&studentItemId=0&backPath=&errorMessage=&clearAttr=&source=&title=&sendingPage=2169520&newTopLevel=false&postedComment=false&addBefore=&itemId=7313704&path=push&addTool=-1&recheck=&id= (accessed on 9 July 2018). 

Kamenetz, A. (2015). What schools could use instead of standardized test. National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/01/06/371659141/what-schools-could-use-instead-of-standardized-tests (accessed on 9 July 2018). 

Lane, D. M. (2017). Classroom organizational structure in fifth grade math classrooms

and the effect on standardized test scores. The University of Southern Mississippi.

Retrieved from https://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2017&q=standardized+testing+cons&hl=en&as_sdt=0,47&httpsredir=1&article=2394&context=dissertations (accessed on 13 July 2018). 

National Education Association. (2017). NEA launches campaign to end toxic testing. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/59747.htm (accessed on 11 July 2018). 

National Education Association. (2017). NEA’s vision, mission, and values. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/19583.htm (accessed on 11 July 2018). 

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. (n.d.). About fair test. Retrieved from https://www.fairtest.org/about (accessed on 11 July 2018). 

Strauss, V. (2017). More than test scores: ‘Schools of opportunity’ to recognize high schools that create full learning experiences for every student. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/14/more-than-test-scores-schools-of-opportunity-to-recognize-high-schools-that-create-full-learning-experiences-for-every-student/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0afba1ba18f3 (accessed on 9 July 2018). 

Strauss, V. (2017). 34 problems with standardized tests. The Washington Post. Retrieved 

from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/19/34-problems-with-standardized-tests/?utm_term=.530f6e19de29 (accessed on 13 July 2018).

University of Kansas. (n.d.). Testwiseness. Retrieved from http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu/?q=assessment/quality_test_construction/teacher_tools/testwiseness_and_guessing (accessed on 9 July 2018). 

Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi