Tests are a very important tool for measuring achievement; therefore, they should be part of a system which provides equitable learning access to all students. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) which requires states to develop accountability systems and provide assessment of the students’ performance in order to receive federal funding accordingly has led to the necessity of implementing large-scale testing. The goal of using these types of tests can be considered praiseworthy if
– the tests are designed in such a way that all students are tested on a curriculum they have had a fair opportunity to learn (especially racial and ethnic minority students or students with a disability or limited English proficiency)
– the tests are scored properly, taking into account that the test scores of those students with limited English skills should be interpreted in accordance with those limitations
– the tests are used appropriately. For example, a test that has been validated only for diagnosing strengths and weaknesses of individual students should not be used to evaluate the educational quality of a school.
The public schools of North Carolina, for example, carry a very high-stakes accountability program known as “The New ABCs of Public Education. ” which has had a major impact on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and school personnel throughout the state. The program requires: End-of-Grade Tests (3-8 and 10), End-of-Course Tests (on Algebra I, Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, Civics & Economics, English I, Geometry, Physical Science, Physics, U. S. History, NCCLAS ), Tests of Computer Skills, Competency Tests, Writing Assessments Grades 4, 7, and 10, IDEA® English Language Proficiency Tests.
Each North Carolina school, as well as any school in any other state has to give itself an annual report card, with assessment results broken down by poverty, race, ethnicity, High Stakes Testing 2 disability, and English-language proficiency. In this way, the race for more and better information about school performance sets off. More attention should be paid to the quality of data educational authorities receive as it is a fact that there are schools which are painting a picture prettier than reality, thus misleading authorities, taxpayers and what is even worse, keeping students trapped in low quality institutions.
Under NCLB, if schools fail to make adequate yearly progress on state tests for three consecutive years, students can use federal funds to transfer to higher-performing public or private schools, or to obtain supplemental education services from providers of their choice but this could not be possible if the low-quality institutions they attend remain invisible under misleading reports of pretended excellence.
In many districts, raising test scores are the most important indicators of school improvement so teachers feel the pressure to ensure that test scores go up. Knowing that schools that fail for four to five consecutive years may face state takeovers, have their staffs replaced, or be bid out to private management some teachers narrow the curriculum and teach only what is covered on the test. There are many issues that should be taken into account when it comes to evaluating high stake assessment.
One of them is the reliability of high stake tests which is definitely at risk when large subject domains (mathematics, language arts) are measured with relatively few questions and a narrow focus on skills and knowledge. Major decisions like getting a diploma or being promoted to the next grade require a balance of information including in-class performance, interviews, observation, projects, and class work.
Perhaps the most important critical claim is that standardized tests do not measure critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and other similar important aspects of intelligence. Students who are perfectly intelligent can perform poorly in high-stakes testing, and this can have serious consequences for the student as well as his or her school. High Stakes Testing 3 In my opinion, the first of the three most important issues in high stakes testing is the type of test used.
Large-scale high-stakes testing programs are primarily focused on serving the goals of norming and selection rather than student mastery of content and problem-solving (Pellegrino, Chudowsky, & Glaser, 2001). These two types of testing are almost impossible to reconcile. A second issue of great importance is assessment of learning versus assessment for learning (Stiggins, 2002) There is a distinction between high-stakes testing (assessment of learning) and the formative assessment techniques that teachers may use throughout the year to foster learning (assessment for learning).
In the case of the former, the goal of the test is to measure what students know or can do. In the case of the latter, the goal of the test is to provide information that will improve student learning. The third most important issue is, in my opinion, the test / curriculum adjustment. Appropriate assessments measure the objectives set out at the classroom level and at the same time reflect curriculum (or content) that has been selected to reach the specified objectives.
To sum up, any decision about a student’s continued education, such as retention, tracking, or graduation, should not be based only on the results of a single test, but should include other relevant and valid information. The classroom is the realm of the teacher. State tests do not tell teachers how to teach, they suggest what should be taught, so there is no reason why students cannot learn how to think critically, solve problems or develop their creativity.
State tests are taken at the end of the year or course, so teachers have the opportunity to diagnose their students’ needs and work on their improvement so that by the time they sit for the tests they can feel confident and succeed as expected. It is only fair to use test results in high-stakes decisions when students have had a real opportunity to master the materials upon which the test is based and this cannot be achieved without an active and professional teacher.