I was interested when Heather asked me if she could do a guest post. The title link (above) links back to the teachingtips.com blog where one can find some of Heather's other posts.
While I agree with all of Heather's concerns about testing - curricular narrowing, too many eggs in the single test basket, etc. - I am even more worried that status measures (proficiency levels) are terrible indicators of how well a school/grade/classroom is educating a particular set of students. For all of their flaws, standardized tests could be used to provide more useful information for improvement.
I also agree with Heather that high stakes tests are here to stay. I'm pretty sure that performance pay linked to value-added measures in just over the horizon for many states and districts.
The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing
The debate rages in educational circles: is standardized testing a fair assessment for measuring students? Everyone has their ideas on the issue and many people are still on the fence about the merits of standardized testing. The “No Child Left Behind Act” has put an emphasis on this system of testing. Legislators believe that we need to have a raw score for the students and this is how we should rate all students in the United States. Good or bad; this is going to be around for the long haul. In order to help you find your stance on this contentious issue we’ve come up with a list of the pros and cons of standardized testing.
Reliability – a standardized test is reliable if the questions and answers are dependable. If students answer the same questions in the same fashion then a test is deemed dependable and the research that can be gleaned from such results is valuable.
Validity – a test is considered to hold validity if educators can make proper assessments of their students based on the information learned from their test results. The notion behind a standardized test is to find students flaws and correct them in the future.
Trends – educators need to be able to see trends developing in students’ answers on a broad scale for the standardized test to be considered important. We are not simply looking to see who is smart and who is not; we are trying to pinpoint areas in the curriculum where students can improve and how we, as educators, can help them improve.
Diminished Time in the Classroom – with the advent of the standardized test it’s meant that teachers need to teach their students how to take a test properly. This means that there will be hours of practice tests and teaching students how to follow instructions properly. This takes away from actual teaching of subjects.
Teaching to the Test – this is one of the most common complaints among educators, parents and students alike when the subject of standardized testing arises. Some teachers feel they have to teach specifically to the material they believe will be on the test and department heads will shift a given curriculum to follow suit. This diminishes the role educators have in forming lesson plans.
Unfair to students – many students become extremely nervous for any sort of test. When they are aware of the weight a test will have, such as standardized test, their stress levels soars through the roof. The results of these tests then become skewed.
Whether you like it or not, standardized tests are here to stay and all we can do is hope the students are always the center of our attention.
This article is contributed by Heather Johnson, who regularly writes on Alabama teacher certification courses. She invites your questions and writing job opportunities at her personal email address: heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.