Failing the Education System
Standardized achievement tests are wolves in sheep’s clothing that are detrimental to the health of the education system. Many parents, students, and taxpayers falsely believe that standardized testing is just a short chunk of time, usually a week or several days, where students take a state-mandated test and then go back to normal curriculum. While the actual pencil-to-paper testing may only take a week, the test itself effects a student’s learning throughout the entire school year. From narrowing curriculum to devoting a great deal of classroom time to test preparation, teachers feel forced to devalue education in order to allow their class to achieve high test scores. Achievement and intelligence are very complex concepts and presently they are being reduced to a score or percentile. This implies that the knowledge of a student is only as important as the score they achieve on a standardized test. In this way, standardized tests devalue the American education system.
Due to standardized tests increased emphasis on reading and math, studies have shown that teachers often exclude or limit topics that are not tested, particularly in elementary school. In the Center of Education Policy’s “Narrowing the Curriculum” study they found that many districts are cutting instructional time in areas like social studies, science, art, music, and physical education. A nationally representative study has found that 27% of districts cut a portion of social studies instruction time to increase reading and math instruction, 22% cut science, 20% cut music, and 18% cut other subjects. On top of this, 71% of districts admitted that students at risk of failing standardized tests had other subjects cut for them in order to make more time reading and math. For example, students at risk of failing the standardized tests would go to extra small group reading and math instruction while the other students went to music class or gym class. This means spending a majority of time on reading and math while spending the bare minimum time on other valuable subjects. Although some may believe that emphasis on reading and math does not sound so bad, it is simply unfair to deprive students of valuable topics that help make them well-rounded citizens. Subjects like history and science are just as important in helping children discover their passions while obtaining knowledge.
Another way that standardized tests devalue education is through a process called “teaching to the test.” According to the Center for Public Education’s “High Stake Testing and Effects on Instruction,” teaching to the test is made up of a wide variety of teaching practices such as scrapping classroom learning time for test preparation, narrowing curriculum to better fit test questions, and teaching memorization over high order skills. Teaching to the test is not just ensuring test readiness by making an effort to cover areas that are being tested. Teaching to the test is a deliberate attempt to base curriculum on the sole priority of achieving passing scores. With increased stakes for students and higher pressures from administrators who crave more school funding, teachers find themselves more and more in the position of teaching to the test. A study by Rand Corporation called “Standard-Based Accountability: Experiences of Teachers and Administrators” analyzed standardized testing in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Results found that an average of 90% of principals in those three states implemented a strategy of “matching curriculum and instruction with assessments” to improve scores. That means that in those three states, and likely across the country, teachers are being instructed by their bosses to teach to the test.
In addition, the high-stakes nature of tests devalues education by increasing the prevalence of cheating. Kenneth H. Wodtke’s study “How Standardized is School Testing? An Exploratory Observational Study of Standardized Group Testing in Kindergarten” demonstrates how increased pressure influences test scores. The study observed ten kindergarten classrooms, classes 1-5 were from upper-middle class communities and classes 6-10 were from lower income communities who were also participating in a district-sponsored program to raise test scores. Teachers in low income communities that were participating in the program were seven times more likely to commit significant procedural variations, ten times more likely to allow unauthorized item repetitions, and thirty-nine times more likely to cue correct answers than their wealthier counterparts. This study shows that teachers who are pressured, especially by a funded program that demands higher test scores, are more likely to cheat which clearly devalues not only the test but the value of education as a whole. Wodtke, after observing what he had, deemed that the scores of these ten tests were incomparable to each other since there was mismanagement in one way or another which would ruin test validity in eight of the ten classes. Yet, some of the districts in this study used the scores from these very tests to place children into first grade classrooms. The mismanagement of test administration may now have horrible consequences for those students who may have been placed in the wrong classroom.
The realization that teachers have a hand in the degradation of education leads many to question why teachers would willingly take part in such practices. Teachers devote their lives to a career thats goal is to provide children with knowledge, so understandably it is hard to consider that they would contribute to devaluing student’s instruction. The most influential reason that teachers would voluntarily narrow curriculum, teach to the test, or cheat is the high-stakes nature of tests. In the Rand Corporation study, “Standard-Based Accountability: Experiences of Teachers and Administrators,” results found that an average of 54% of schools in the states of CA, GA, and PA use tests to assess teacher performance and 53% use them to decide student promotion and retention. Teachers want their students to succeed and in an educational system where passing a standardized test equates to success, there are not many options for struggling educators.
All in all, high-stake standardized testing, which has become the norm in American public schools, is devaluing education by reducing success in school to a number. As a society, we want well-rounded knowledgeable students that will contribute to the next generation yet we create simple standard tests to measure their capability. It is time to create accommodating and specific tests that promote high-level thinking and allow every student the right and ability to achieve a high score. It is time to stop using a test score to define education. Tests should be used as educational tools for teachers that help them understand what topics students are struggling with and which they excel in. Tests should not be used to measure teacher quality, determine funding for schools, or to solely determine whether a child passes or fails a grade. Education is worth more than that and one high stakes test should never be used to measure the vast and brilliant knowledge that any given student possesses.
Hamilton, L. S., Stecher, B. M., Marsh, J. A., McCombs, J. S., Robyn, A., Russell, J. L., et al. (2007). Standards-based accountability under No Child Left Behind: Experiences of teachers and administrators in three states. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
Mitchell, Ruth. “High-Stakes Testing and Effects on Instruction.” Center for Public Education. Center for Public Education, 6 Mar. 2006. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
“NCLB: Narrowing the Curriculum?” NCLB Policy Brief. Center on Education Policy, 1 July 2005. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.