Mrs. Stephanie Wood
9 October 2013
Improving Educational Achievement
Standardized testing is meant to evaluate how well students are learning in their schools, and how well their schools are preparing them for graduation and careers after high school, but without the right kinds of tests, and a thorough understanding of their proper uses, we may do more harm than good to public education in America.Some students have test anxiety, some have certain learning disabilities, not all students speak English as their first language, and some students (not just the artistic ones) learn visually or audibly.Requiring students to pass a standardized test to receive a high school diploma is a part of today’s public education; however, itdoes not improve the academic achievement of our students due to important abilities and skills left unrecognized and untested by standardization’s narrow curriculum, such as a desire for the arts. Students being subjected to standardized testing receive the benefits of being competent in mathematics and English, and graduating high school with the basic skills deemed necessary to acquire work in today’s business environment. In Massachusetts, high-stakes testing was a quick solution to “education by zip code,” the practice of supporting students based on where they live, and students graduating without viable business skills. The MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) was started in 1998 and was to be administered to students in grades four, eight, 10, and 12; the 10th and 12th grade tests would have to be passed in order to graduate high school. At first, failure rates were very high, but David Driscoll, commissioner ofeducation in Massachusetts, says that failure rates were only so high (50% in math and 1/3 in English) because schools told students that the test did not count, therefore the test was “blown off.”Driscoll argues in favor of high-stakes testing and explains why he believes the MCAS is a fair and valid test. This state-wide standardized test focuses on math and English, and the Board of Education states that these basics are enough the establish competency. In 2001, it was made law that if students do not pass the final MCAS administered their senior year of high school with a minimum score of 220; they will not be allowed to graduate. A student named Madeline Valera took the test in 10th grade and scored a 216. She took it again in 12th grade and barely made a 220. PBS interviewed her about her experience with the MCAS and she said, “This test is not testing what I’m good at. I’m artistic. I have these talents, and it doesn’t recognize that. It looks at what I’m not and ignores what I am.” When informed of this interview, David Driscoll responded, “We’re not trying to test someone’s artistic ability, nor are we saying someone who passes the test meets the graduation requirements (of their school). We call it ‘competency determination.’ They could have a whole series of talents otherwise”(“Testing. Teaching.Learning?”).
With comments like these coming from many state education commissioners, controversy arose. Standardization shows how students have learned specific concepts and skills, but they often focus on the schools’ accomplishments, leaving some researchers wondering is the tests truly show how and if the students are learning. Standardized test usage often encourages a narrowed curriculum and outdated methods of instruction that often leave students in the dust. The test is the same for every student who takes it, but not all students are the same. A student’s performance on a test is affected by more than just what they do and do not know. Focusing on these basics of math and English is meant to prepare students for the real world by establishing competency, yet they sometimes fail students who may excel in a history, science, or foreign language. But is testing on just math and English giving a wide enough view of a student?