There are many ways in which to gauge a student’s cognition, including problem solving, critical thinking, and testing. However, when it comes to testing, the format and frequency of the test, this has become an issue in today’s educational system as standardized testing is now required in the United States.
A standardized test can be defined as a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or “standard” manner. They are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are both consistent, administered, and scored in a predetermined, standard manner. When former president George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on January 8th, 2002, annual testing be-came mandated across the nation. Students would be tested in math, reading, and science, starting in the 3rd grade, and ending in the 10th grade, with the only gap year being the 9th grade. Schools would be judged based on referred to as Adequate Yearly Progress, and if it wasn’t sufficient, the state could take over or close the school.
In the NCLB Act, President Bush outlined that he wanted 100% proficiency in state math and reading tests by 2014. This goal was unrealistic both when it was set, and now as 2014 draws nearer. In 2010, Massachusetts was the only state proficient in mathematics, and not one qualified for proficiency in reading. Similarly, U.S. students slipped from 18th in the world in math in 2000 to 31st place in 2009, with a similar decline in science and no change in reading.
The decrease in test scores cannot all be attributed to the teachers, however. The NCLB act said that states must report the assessment scores of 95% of their students. There are no exceptions to this, which means that dis-advantaged students are required to take the same test as everyone else. This includes students who have Individual Education Plans. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) sets developing goals and objectives that correspond to the needs of the individual student, and is utilized for disabled students who cannot obtain goals of their grade lev-el. If a student has special accommodations specified by their IEP for test taking, these accommodations are only allowed as long as they do not interfere with the nature of the assessment. This means that although some students may be granted their usual accommodations, others will have to test without them. Additionally, students with mild or physical disabilities are required to take the same test as non-disabled students and have their scores count-ed.
Non-English speakers face a similar problem when it comes to testing. All students who are learning English are given a three-year window to take the tests in their native language, but then after the three years, they are forced to take the tests entirely in English. However, only ten states test English language learners in their native languages. Expecting students to have mastered the most difficult language to learn in just three years and to test as proficient in it while native English speakers can’t do the same shows that this is an unfair practice.
Due to the high amount of pressure that is put on teachers for their test results, there has been an increase in the number of teachers that are “teaching to the test.” This is a practice where teachers spend less time on out-side subjects and topics that aren’t relative to the test, and teach only material that is to be included on it. A study done by the University of Maryland found that, “the pressure teachers were feeling to ‘teach to the test'” since NCLB was leading to “declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum.” Less time is being spent on subjects such as social studies and science, and more time is being spent on the mandated testing areas of math and reading.
The format of the tests also does not foster higher level thinking skills. Multiple-choice questions make students believe that there are only right and wrong answers to questions. According to researcher Gerald W. Bracey, by using the multiple choice format, students are not being tested on this such as, “creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, and integrity.”
Education at the state level is also involved with the sham that is standardized testing. States are able to individually set what they determine to be proficiency by weakening the standards they set. For example, a student taking the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test is California may be deemed proficient, but would have not met proficiency if they had taken the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) in Connecticut. The variability at the state level of what is determined to be proficiency causes a great deal of fluctuation when it comes to the national mandated tests.
For an example of a country succeeding in the absence of standardized tests, one can look at Finland. In annual reports from the Program for International Student Assessment, Finland was atop the rankings from 2001-2008. Rather than using standardized tests, or hardly any testing at all, success is measured through assessments that encourage students to be active learners that are able to find, analyze, and use information to solve problems. The ability of the students to use higher order thinking skills helps to develop cognitive ability and problem solving skills that seems to be absent in American students.
The presentation that I did in class was focused on most of the same issues that were presented in this paper, but just did a quick overview of them rather than getting too in depth into each issue. For the interactive portion of my presentation, I made up two separate quizzes that were administered to all other class members. The first quiz was typed entirely in Finnish, and was near impossible to complete correctly without any knowledge of the language. This quiz was designed to show how English learners may not be completely proficient in the language, but are still forced to take the test. The second quiz was the exact same as the first quiz, but this quiz was in English. Once starting the timer, the participants were only given a short amount of time to look over the quiz before time was called. This was done to simulate a situation where students with IEP’s aren’t always given the accommodations they are used to when taking standardized tests, and their scores are still counted in the results.
I believe that if the problem of standardized testing is to be adjusted, that there needs to be more than a few things that are changed. First, I believe that the rate at which tests are administered needs to be reduced. Rather than testing every year between 3rd and 9th grade, I believe that testing should only take place every other year starting in the 4th grade and ending in the 10th grade. This would result in a total of four tests, each administered in key times of intellectual development. Second, the format of the tests needs to be changed. Rather than being all multiple-choice, new types of questions need to take the place of a portion of the multiple choice. From this, skills such as creativity and critical thinking can be taken into account. Skills such as these would prove to be more valuable in the real world, where problems are not always solved with only one answer, and new and innovative ways of solving the problem are valued. Third, the tests should be based on a more even distribution of more topics rather than math and reading. Though these two are arguably the most valuable skills learned, testing in history, social studies, and science would also prove valuable to the developing minds of our children. How are well-rounded individuals supposed to be raised if they are constantly being tested solely on math and reading?
Although I believe that standardized tests are necessary in order to gauge the development of school children, they need to be modified to fully reach their potential. They need to be administered less often, be more mindful of disadvantaged students, and be more inclusive of other subjects and aspects of mental development.