Tag Archives: standardized testing

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests in American schools has been a controversial issue among federal regulators, school administration, teachers, parents and students for years. The debate continues to escalate as standardized testing becomes more and more rigorous with the passing of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

What are standardized tests?
Standardized tests are implemented in the public school system as a way to present unbiased results of student progress based on what is being taught in the school curriculum. Many standardized tests are used to determine the overall school or class progress like with Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports. Tests like these help determine the standards set by the NCLB act. There are also forms of standardized tests that are simply to track individual student improvement and are used in-school purposes to maybe determine a student’s grade or to see how well the teacher implements the standards required by the state-set curriculum.

Many standardized tests are used to test the student achievement gap to see how students of particular races, classes or educational backgrounds compare against one another. Standardized tests like these help teachers and educational experts determine where the focus of attention needs to shift in order for all students to learn the required material. The majority of required standardized testing is used to judge the progress of students, classes and schools overall, but to also determine student’s individual scores to see how that student is preparing for advancement in education. These tests help demonstrate the students who may need additional help or tutoring in order to catch up on the required material.

The standardized tests debate
Many agree with standardized testing in schools for several reasons:

  • Standardized tests demonstrate an overall method of achievement for classes and schools.
  • Standardized tests show the achievement gap for groups of students to help teachers and administration determine the students who need additional one-on-one attention in schooling to keep up with the learning curve of their peers.
  • Standardized tests help students relearn and recap the information they have previously been taught during the school year.

However, there are many disagreeing points when it comes to standardized tests:

  • These tests are designed to be unbiased, yet studies have shown they reveal a bias toward the middle-class white background.
  • Standardized tests do not represent a true sampling of how children learn. Many students who achieve good grades on regular assignments and tests do not perform well on standardized tests.
  • In order to keep up with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements, some school administrators have been found to lower the goal set for the AYP testing to ensure the goals are met each year. However, this practice merely indicates low goal setting and not true academic achievement.

Sources: washingtonpost.com, fairtest.org, centerforpubliceducation.org

Unintended Consequences

Two education stories that came out over the weekend revealed unintended consequences to education of US law and a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The first story—”A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government’s Good Intentions” (NYTimes, July 18)—tells of the removal of a Burlington, Vermont school principal Joyce Irvine from her leadership position at a school with 97 percent low income children, and 50% foreign-born children, a large number of whom are refugees who have had traumatic experiences of one kind or another.

Although all comers are impressed by the accomplishments of the children from year to year, the testing system under the No Child Left Behind Act—which has meant that some new-comers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, for example, have had to take an English language state math test after a month or less in the United States, for example—is not adapted to this type of situation.

As a result of standardized tests offered under these conditions, the school scored poorly, and the school district was faced with a choice of fulfilling heart-breaking requirements—closing the school; removing half the staff and the principal; or removing only the principal and transforming the school—to receive as much as $3 million in federal stimulus funds, or forgoing the stimulus funds. The decision was that removing the principal was the least damaging choice.

The principal is so highly regarded that she has been given another job by the school district that removed her and both the Burlington school superintendent and US Senator Bernie Sanders have spoken very highly of her.

The second story—”Standardized English Tests Are Halted in Iran” (NYTimes, July 17)—explains that the UN Security Council resolution of sanctions against Iran as well as US sanctions make it impossible for Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to accept payment of registration fees from Iran.

As a result, registration for the TOEFL testing program has been suspended, making things more difficult for people whom the sanctions were not intended to affect in this way. The situation may, however, be short-lived because a State Department spokesman has reported that explorations of alternative means to allow the program to resume are under consideration.

National Common Core Standards: Necessary or Not?

Released by the state school chiefs and governors yesterday, a set of English Language Arts and Mathematics standards that the Obama administration hopes states will adopt is now available on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website. Alaska and Texas opted not to participate in the development.

The goal of the new standards is to unify and make coherent the vision of what K–12 students should know and be able to do, which currently is ruled by each state’s own benchmarks. How the standards will be taught is up to states and teachers.

The current benchmarks vary widely, making school adjustment difficult for students who change schools and comparison of schools in different states in order to judge how schools are performing in their task of educating young people. They also mean that there is duplicate effort 50 times over, as each state addresses the same questions with its own set of personnel and resources.

There are several objections to this plan. One is the loss of local control in states and communities. Another is the need for different approaches to teacher education and massive professional development outlays for current teachers. The cost of textbooks and materials and the need to change standardized tests also loom.

Another type of objection is to the standards themselves. While states in which the standards are seen as a step up seem more likely to sign on—especially as accepting the standards is a criterion for a chance to share in the Race to the Top money—states that already have rigorous standards are not eager to join in. California, Virginia, and Indiana have been named as states that are hesitant to adopt the new standards.

We encourage you to take a look at the standards using the link above, and to take our survey to make your views on the national standards known.





Education Reform

People have very different ideas about what should be going on in our nation’s classroom. But beyond that, they have very different ideas about how to make sure it’s likely to happen. And this looks really different in proposed assessment of teachers’ on-the-job performance.

Here are two examples of strikingly different approaches.

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City contract proposes that after a three-year-long vetting period, teachers receive tenure for life and be paid based on their years on the job. This means that after that period of assessment, they cannot be fired, demoted, or paid less if they are not judged to be doing a satisfactory job.

A new Colorado law proposes to connect teacher evaluations to their students’ achievement test scores as a portion of evidence that shows their students’ progress, which will be 50 percent of their evaluation. Teachers found to be “ineffective” for two years running could potentially lose their jobs.

At least part of the impetus behind the change is the “Race to the Top”—the contest that offers $4.3 billion to states willing to overhaul their public schools if they are willing to enact a package of reforms that includes improved curriculum standards, among other things. But a key point is that more than a fifth of the points each state can earn for its proposal is based on the state’s commitment to get rid of the tenure-for-life approach to teachers’ job security and stop the practice of tying teachers’ compensation only to seniority, without taking account of any performance indicators.

To understand more about what’s taking place in education reform right now, we recommend two articles;

“The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand”

“Colorado education law may mark a national shift”

And for basic background on the elements involved in the reform movement, read our article “Education Reform.”

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

If you have a child in a K–12 classroom or are a teacher in a K–12 classroom, it’s testing season. If you have a child in college or teach college, it’s final exam season. It’s actually been testing season for quite awhile. The NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exams were given from January 25 through March 12. Since then, schools have been giving state-mandated assessments, such as the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). or the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program. Advanced Placement® exams (AP exams) run May 3–7 and 10–14, with late testing dates being May 19–21.And for some students there are high school exit exams, college entrance exams, physical fitness exams, etc.

Testing can serve a variety of purposes:

Learning—Although testing is usually thought of as a recap of what has been previously learned, it can actually be a learning experience itself. A well-conceived question can lead a student to recast what has been learned in a new light, perhaps by achieving a synthesis that could only come after everything else was done.

• Diagnosis—Reading clinicians and speech language pathologists, among others, use various testing tools to help understand students abilities and disabilities in order to make an appropriate plan

• Demonstrating Competency—When the reading clinician or speech language pathologist or other instructor has been successful in work with a student, a test can demonstrate that the goals have been achieved. In addition, sometimes you have to be proficient in A to go on to B, of necessity or because there’s a rule that says you must or because it’s necessary for your own or others’ safety that you have that skill down pat or for some other reason.

• Feedback and Placement—For the student moving to a new school environment or an adult returning to school, a singer joining an school ensemble and a child joining a sports team, a test can help to make decisions between French I and French 2, Algebra and Geometry, Tenor and Baritone, Pitcher and Outfielder.

• Gateway—There are gates in, like college entrance exams, and gates out, like high school exit exams.

• Assessment—Some tests are a certain percentage of a grade for a class, with weight only in that class.

• Accountability—Tests can be used to judge students’ learning and hold teachers, schools, and districts accountable.

With as many uses and styles as it has, testing is an area of some contention. For a greater understanding of some of the questions that have been raised about testing, read our article “Testing Issues.”



University Rankings

Often, parents and prospective students consult university ranking when choosing a facility for pursuing educational needs. They commonly see Ivy League Schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford on the tops of these ranking lists. However, there are over 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States and many of them provide outstanding education, research, and resources. University ranking will vary from one assessment to the next, this is because there are numerous factors to consider when making comparisons.

The first thing to consider about university rankings is that many of them are based entirely on subjective information. Often the perceived quality of a school provides it with its status, as opposed to anything that can be measured. It goes without saying, that people don’t always perceive things the same. However, other rankings are a result of some actual research.

A combination of statistics and the range and number of undergraduate majors, master’s, and doctoral programs can be assessed when ranking universities. Additionally, the amount of research that is conducted by a university and the quality of their studies might be a determining factor. Other factors that may be taken into consideration include popularity, surveys of the instructors, peer assessments, financial resources, the standardized test results of selected students, and the graduation rate performance. Also, faculty degree level and salary, student retention, class size, and student-to-faculty ratio are often assessed when comparing schools for placement in a ranking system.

When referencing a ranking lists for the best universities, make sure the ranking criteria is consistent with the factors that are important to you. Other things to consider include individual program and department rankings.


Homeschool is defined as an alternative form of education that takes place in the student’s home and not in a traditional school setting. In some states homeschool is actually considered to be a private school. The reasons why parents choose to homeschool their students range from opposition to school curriculum, the ability to add religious teachings into a students education, concerns about school violence, a desire to give the student more one on one instructional time, and at times to avoid some negative social aspects that come with a traditional school setting.

Homeschooling is quickly on the rise but getting firm numbers in regards to this is a challenge. There are some homeschool families that willingly give information about their families and other that think that the government should stay out of their right to educate their children as they see fit. Regardless, we do know that the numbers are quickly rising and the most recent statistics show that parents were worried about school safety. There are homeschool statistics that state that in 2007 there were reportedly 1,500,000 homeschooled students. In 1999 there were 850,000 students that were reported. This is an amazing amount of growth.
Every state has different requirements for homeschoolers. To find the homeschool laws for your state you should contact your Department of Education.
The main arguments involved in homeschool vs. public school are that of socialization and of state standardized testing. There are no studies to show that either of these really makes a difference in how well a homeschooled students does.

Closing the Achievement Gap

There has been much discussion over the past forty years about the gap that separates underprivileged children and students of color from other students. This gap was narrowed quite a bit during the 1980’s particularly between whites and blacks it has remained fairly constant since. Below the national average performance of minority students continues to be one of the most pressing problems facing America’s educational system.

On average today’s black or Hispanic high school student reaches a level on par with white students in the lowest 25 percentile. They are also much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school and their chances of graduation high school, continuing on to college or earn a median income are much reduced.

There are many factors believed to influence this, the students racial and economic background, the level of education which their parents achieved, The access to schooling that they had in their preschool days, the funding of the school which they attend, the quality of teachers and involvement in school activities.

A recent study has shown that only 11 percent of students families in the bottom fifth of the economy have gone on to earn college degrees while 53 percent of children from the top fifth have graduated college. Children of Middle income black families have a 50 percent chance to fall into the lower fifth while only 16 percent of whites fell into that category. Black children from the lower fifth of the country have a 19 percent chance to reach the top fifth with 62 percent joining the middle class or higher.

The Homework Debate

Homework Facts:

  • In 2004 the University of Michigan did a study and found that there had been a 51% increase in the amount of homework that students were receiving.
  • In 1981, students ages 6 to 8 were doing about 52 minutes of homework per night. In 1997 this had increased to 128 minutes per night.
  • Studies have found that while some homework does cause standardized testing scores to rise, if students in high school are doing more than two hours of homework per night the scores lowered. For middle school student test scores dropped if they were doing more than 60 to 90 minutes of homework.
  • Countries that outshine the U.S. in education typically assign less homework.
Homework opinions:
  • Some educators feels that we assign children more homework because we are crazed with standardized test results. It has been said “it isn’t about knowledge, it’s about winning”.
  • Parents have stated that a student’s interest in learning overall fades when homework is so time consuming.
  • One parent makes the point that what goes on in schools should set an example to the students. If there is so much homework, doesn’t this give the student the example of poor time management by the schools? How is it that they can’t get the work done with all of the hours they have our children?
  • One private school that does not promote a lot of homework finds that their students are excited about taking projects home to their parents, enjoy playing music with friends after school, get involved in other great activities and in general are not “at risk”.
  • Educators who are pro-homework have declared that homework sends the message to parents that the schools “mean business”. They believe that homework fosters critical thinking, persistence and diligence when looked at over time.
  • Parents and educators tend to agree that in younger years there is little academic value to homework.
  • An educator pointed out at a forum at Harvard recently that a teacher never knows who is doing the homework when it is sent home. There are those parents who do it for a child or hover over the student and don’t let them really learn.
One thing is consistent and that is that this is an ongoing debate with heated opinions on both sides of the fence. There are those that want to abolish homework altogether and there are those that believe it is a precursor for real life and teach valuable skills to students.
Parents in general find homework to be a full time job. While they may enjoy having the time with their students they may wish that they had more options of how to spend such time. Homework tends to become a full time job just for the parent and in many homes causes great contention between parent and child. Perhaps if this is the case a parent contract could be used to help set standards in the home.

Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

What are standardized tests?

Standardized tests are tests that are given to every student and consist of the same questions. They are then tested and scored in exactly the same manner.
Advantages or pros of standardized testing:
If you take human scoring out of the question the results are easy to assess and document. However, if a test has essay questions or something other than multiple choice or true/false answering you have to have humans score the results. If computer scoring is used the results are very clear. Another pro is that these tests are economical to make, give and score.
Another advantage or pro of standardized testing is that while scoring of the individual may not be completely perfect it does give a good indicator of the school or class average. This helps school administrators know better what is working and what isn’t within their curriculum framework.
Disadvantages or cons of standardized testing:
While there can be a need to assess knowledge of certain facts, standardized testing leads to problems within the schools curriculum. If teachers are only giving out information to “teach to the test”, certain crucial information may be left out, a huge con to standardized testing. It is hard to say from standardized test scoring what the child knows about an overall subject, it only shows what the test chooses to measure.
This is where the problem with basing your curriculum around a standardized test comes into play. This keeps teachers from teaching kids a wide variety of things in each subject because they have to be worried about the test results and how it makes them look. While this may be good for teachers who are only teaching for health benefits, this would be very limiting to a teacher who truly loves to share knowledge and ideas with children. Another con, these tests also leave very little time for students to have hands on learning time and creative thinking sessions. They are too busy trying to retain facts so that they can score well.
Another debate is the trend of test preparation. This is a huge market for companies that produce test helpers, test preparation books, or offer tutoring for testing. While this may be a needed thing, it costs a lot of money. This then brings the problem of families with money having better test scores than those that don’t. This does not bring about a correct assessment of the teacher but of the parent’s ability to get the child the right help to score well.
While standardized testing may have a place in school systems it is greatly flawed. There is just no good way of measuring a humans intelligence. Intelligence takes in too many factors such as critical thinking, creative thinking, conceptual thinking, application of knowledge and more.