Are our Schools a Perfect Score: an Examination of Standardized Testing in America

The application for her dream school is finally done, and she’s giving it one last onceover before hitting the fated, Submit button. Her eyes are caught by the standardized test score that seems to scream Throw this application away right off the page. It seems out of character for the student with a GPA higher than a 4.0 who involves themselves in a multitude of afterschool activities all on top of a job, and that’s because it is.

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In fact it looks almost as if it was simply a typo. But the fact is that this incredibly bright student who otherwise has the perfect application will probably get denied without question because she simply isn’t fit for the college because of one test score. One test score is all it takes to ruin her dreams.

High-stakes testing can be defined as any test where the results are used to make an important decision about a student such as acceptance to a college, promotion to the next grade, ability to graduate, etc. (“”The Glossary,”” 2014). Tests can be qualified as standardized when all students are being tested on the same material and each student has been given the same opportunity to be successful. It is also scored and administered in a fashion that would be the exact same for every student (“”The Glossary,”” 2015).

This is an issue because tests such as the SAT and ACT among other tests are administered for the sole purpose for colleges and scholarship programs to determine an applicant’s intellectual ability. The chief mission of standardized tests is to reference achievement compared to the normal, average basis, yet if the national average is above normal, then students who are achieving higher than normal scores are in the lower half. These tests can be used when an excess of applicants for a program is present so that the best candidates may be chosen. However, this then does not take into account any other capabilities of a student when only the test is considered. (I.E. college)

History

No Child Left Behind

In 1999, students all around the world took the 3rd International Science & Math Test. The United States scored 28th out of all nations (Oliver et al., n.d.). This urged George W. Bush to push his No Child Left Behind Act, passed Congress with Bipartisan support due to it’s motivational tennants to help both our students and focus on moving us up on the ranking list. No Child Left Behind focused on testing students yearly to identify schools that are underperforming and help fix them or eliminate the schools that are consistently failing and transfer their students to better performing schools. The act also increased the number of federally mandated standardized tests from six to 17 (Oliver et al., n.d.). The Effect of No Child Left Behind has virtually no support for the hypothesis that No Child Left Behind has led, on average, to a narrowing of racial achievement gaps. (Oliver et al., n.d.). In fact, the United States’s scores on the International Science & Math Test are actually down from the last time it was administered.

Race to the Top

This Obama era initiative changed some of the ideals of No Child Left Behind in order to better adapt them to the current times and included new policies such as Value-added Analysis. The value-added analysis made it so teachers ratings are based on if the student improves in the percentiles (Oliver et al., n.d.). In other terms, a teacher’s rate of successful students is based on the level of improvement by students.

Continuance Through Grade Levels

Virginia implemented high-stakes testing in 1988 with the introduction of graduation dependent testing. After the implementation of the graduation exam in Virginia the rates in enrollment for the GED program increased, therefore we can believe that GED enrollment in Virginia increased as the nation decreased this could be linked to the graduation examination put in place (Amrein & Berliner, 2002). In New York, Lower Hudson Valley school districts are seeing over 25% of students in grades 3-8 opting out of state certified tests. This shows a pattern of both students and parents discontent associated with state testing. Examples are more extreme in other situations, such as when not a single junior student attended the common core state test at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle An average American student is likely to have 113 standardized tests on average by time of graduation (Oliver et al., n.d.).

How high-stakes tests affect our education system

How this affects our teachers

Standardized Tests can be helpful by showing teachers where certain students need extra help to improve in order to not be left behind by classmates. Nevertheless, these tests put far too much emphasis on teaching only what’s going to be on test, this in turn leaves out topics students might show genuine interest in because there simply isn’t enough time in the year to cover the curriculum; thus limiting creativity and diversity in education. President Obama’s Race to the Top program also included tying teacher pay to student performance in some cases. This has had the negative implementation that students sometimes have achievement goals that are literally impossible to achieve because their predicted score is higher than the score can actually compute, and even when a student receives a perfect score, a teacher’s rating could go down, therefore potentially inhibiting their pay. (Oliver et al., n.d.). Some schools that link student achievement to teacher pay using a complex and practically incomprehensible formula (see appendix) this formula is also used to show the predicted amount of calves a cow will birth in their lifetime.

How this Affects our Students

The schedule of testing is also inadequate when considering most tests are administered at the beginning of the year to get a feel of where the students stand. The middle, to determine what the students have learned and still need to be educated on. Lastly, an end of year examination, to determine all of what a student has learned throughout the course of a year. These seem like fair administrations that provide vital information for the teachers to ensure every child understands the material being taught. Yet, even after the scores come back, the information that was missed on the examination is still rarely brought up again because there simply isn’t enough time in the syllabus schedule. So even though we are correctly identifying the issue, we are bypassing the solution. These checks are then pointless to a child and encourage the children not to try because even if there is a clear issue that a number of students consistently fail an area of study they know there will not be anything done to correct it and help them.

Economic Disparities

There are two distinct aspects when it comes to examining how economic disparities affect both test-takers and school systems. Standardized tests can be helpful when a state needs to decide where to send supplemental items such as textbooks, additional teachers, study courses, etc. In 2008, The National Association for College Admissions Counselors found that standardized test scores were more predictive of income than intelligence, this influenced them to try to get more schools to identify as test-optional. Despite the push from NCAC, schools still resisted (Soares & Ovaska, 2015).

Psychology/ Neurology

Test-Taking Anxiety

Test-Taking Anxiety can be defined as a social disorder where a test-taker experiences extreme feelings of stress and anxiety during a test. These feelings are especially heightened during high-stakes tests such as the ACT, SAT, and high-school exit exams (Cherry, 2018). Mrs. Christina Steponovich discusses the topic of Test-Taking Anxiety on how this might affect students from her teaching experience. She expressed that students who suffer from test-taking anxiety more often show anxious tendencies like finger and foot tapping during the test as well as looking around the room. There is no sure fire way to cure this disease, but remedies like neurotherapy and counseling to try and build confidence as well as teach coping mechanisms like relaxation breathing.

The Brain Under Stress

If affects the brain by releasing neurotransmitters at a rapid rate, making the amygdala (the part of the brain that deals with fear and releases stress hormones) hyperactive. This leads to heaving breathing and a deficit in confidence when answering questions, therefore the test-taker is more likely to second guess themselves even if they have sufficient evidence to believe they have the correct answer. This contributes to the downward spiral effect where the situation progressively gets worse.

Drug Use

Standardized testing also increases a student’s likelihood to use psychoactive drugs like Adderall and Ritalin so they can study for hours on end (Armstrong, 2013). This can lead to addiction in driven, hard-working students which is not usually the group of people whom you would expect to see addicted to drugs.

as of 2011, about 1 in 10 high school-aged US teens reported non-medical use of Adderall or Ritalin, a similar drug, while 4.1 to 10.8 percent of college students reported non-medical use of these medications.

Testing Companies

Non-Profit Testing Organizations

Many testing companies now identify as public non-profits, which seems a little odd considering America spends 1.7 billion dollars annually on standardized testing (Chingos, 2012). Of course, most organizations offer scholarships to students who receive exceptional results, and that’s where we hope our money will go when the average cost of session tutoring starts at $1,000 (Carns, 2014). However, it seems more often than not, high ranking officials in these companies take home large paychecks and sizable bonuses at the end of the year. Specifically, in 2002, the Educational Testing Service President, Kurt Landgraf, was compensated with $800,000 for his first 10 months on the job as well as awarding the company’s top 15 executives with nearly $400,000 bonuses each. In 2013, Kurt Landgraf made over 1.35 million from his job as President of E.T.S, a private, Non-profit testing organization Make sure to keep in mind the teachers who prepare the students for these tests yearly average starting salary is $38, 617 (Caffee, 2018).

Privatization of Public Education

The Companies

Pearson. Pearson currently owns 40% of the testing markets in the Nation and also owns the General Education Development, or GED test. Pearson has been found in a number of sticky situations when it comes to standardized testing and its many facets. Specifically on grading, they have been found looking for assessment graders on online forums such as Craigslist. The positions are posted, and most scoring jobs do not have sufficient training for those who are hired for the company. Sometimes, the only requirement to be a Pearson at-home scorer is to have a Bachelor’s Degree (and not even in the field you are scoring for for some jobs.) In an interview with Tom Farley, he admitted that grades can sometimes be based on quotas and not content, some specific words he called from his experience were, You need to learn to see more papers as a 3, based on last year’s quotas, we’re scoring too (blank) Quota-based scoring leads to students not receiving an accurate assessment of their education because the score they received many not be the score they actually earned.

McGraw-Hill

Harcourt

Riverside

Case Law

The most recent class-action suit against The College Board and Educational Testing Service is one that comes with vicious accusations. John Doe, on behalf of his son, is suing The College Board on the assumption that the August Administration of the SAT was a duplicate of the test given in Asia in 2017. This directly goes against the rules of the company to ensure that no questions are duplicated if the answers have been revealed to students. There were no international tests administered for the August date which led to many students travelling to the U.S. to take the test, and therefore, the concern that Asian students who took the test in 2017 now had an unfair advantage to excel on the test. The College Board has assured students and families that they checked that all those who took the test in Asia were not re-testing in America for this date yet the public still remains skeptical on the truth in these statements. The case is still waiting to be heard by United States District Court for Middle Florida (Jashchik, 2018).

Federal Law

The only current bill on legislation that will affect Standardized Testing is a bill by the name of Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing Act of 2015 or in short TEST. It is intended to reduce the amount of testing and frequency at which students in grades three through eight complete adequate yearly progress examinations. Considering the previously stated fact that students on average complete 113 Standardized Tests by the time of graduation (Oliver et al., n.d.). This bill is meant to amend the Secondary Education Act of 1965. It initially started as Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing Act of 2014, but the bill never made it to the House floor. It was then proposed as the 2015 version but is still yet to see any form of action towards a vote or debate on it. There bill has since been tabled since 2015, neither the House nor Senate voted on either bill at any point.

Conclusion

Standardized Testing is one of the biggest issues plaguing our education system yet it is rarely examined for ethical processes or innovated to change as both students and the education change around themself.

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