Kathleen McNulty & Stacey Silvestri
There is always some bandwagon that education seems to jump onto. Unfortunately, sometimes when the majority is in support of the same system, there is a loss of objectivity. They are unable to see both the good and the bad because they are anxious to have developed the "perfect" system. You donít have to be an educator, but simply a citizen who reads the newspaper or watches the news, to realize that the newest bandwagon is high-stakes testing. In fact those who are parents or have some involvement in a childís life are most likely seeing the change occurring in the school they are involved with. Some people may argue that testing has always been done. So what is different now?
The difference is that now testing (in the form of "high-stakes" testing) is leaving dangerous aftereffects. The end result that may come leaves one even more wary.
So, what exactly is high-stakes testing? Is there an exact definition? Personally we believe that one may describe what high-stakes testing is. But, it is more important and more effective to emphasize the unfair strategies high-stakes testing utilizes as well as the disturbing effects it is causing.
High-stakes testing is an assessment of students, which carries serious consequences for students or educators. If the student passes, they proceed. If they do not pass, they must repeat the level they are currently at. Why do some people think high-stakes testing is the answer? What are the effects of high-stakes testing? Are there alternatives to high-stakes testing? Fortunately, these are some of the questions we have addressed in this article.
High-stakes testing has been implemented in order to "raise the bar for all students and add accountability for academic performance" (Tennessee Department of Education). Many states implement the tests so that they can gather information about student achievement over time. Policy makers have good intentions in that they believe that these tests will improve education. The major goal and hope is that setting high standards of achievement will inspire greater effort on the part of students, teachers, and educational administrators (AERA position statement).
As stated previously, many policy makers have good intentions when they implement high-stakes testing. We are not pointing fingers at who is bad and who is good. We are simply pointing out the fact that perhaps the policy makers and society as a whole need to reevaluate what we want from our education system. Children should be focusing on the "how" involved with learning instead of the "what". The education system they are provided with should focus on teaching them how to be lifelong learners. High-stakes testing only succeeds in instructing children on how to take the next test they will be faced with. It only leads to short-term success for the children who can do well on the tests.
The effects of high-stakes testing on children, parents, teachers, and administration are very harsh. Students are put in a very stressful situation. A studentís ability, knowledge, and overall worth should not be determined by a multiple-choice test. To emphasize this point simply examine this statement, "Reactions to the failures of students to meet the standards are varied, ranging from blaming the teachers for poor preparation and inadequate instructional strategies, to blaming the principals for inadequate or inappropriate instructional leadership, to blaming parents for improper childbearing strategies and lack of involvement with the school, to blaming students for lack of motivation and for watching too much TV, to blaming publishing companies, to blaming schools for poorly developed curricula (Nevi, 460)." It seems as though there are a lot of people to blame. In fact the blame has been placed on everyone. The odd thing is that the blame is being placed everywhere except on the assessment.
Blaming really doesnít solve anything. Although it is understandable that people take that approach. They are running around scared for the children. But, they are not looking directly at the thing that is causing the problems?óhigh-stakes testing. Perhaps it is simply because testing has been around for so long that people are not recognizing that they are the problem. But, they must realize that an assessment that carries such serious consequences is not really a fair system. If people would look deeper, they might not be in such support for high-stakes testing. Is it hard to see why high-stakes testing might not work?
High-stakes testing determines whether an individual passes or fails, graduates or stays in high school another year, goes to college or doesnít get in because of a poor test grade. Policy makers and the public are being misled by spurious test score increases that are unrelated to fundamental educational movement. Should the overriding goal of education be high-test scores, rather than learning (AERA position statement)? The way society is being influenced it seems as though many people feel that way. But, the question is how does this system become ingrained in society and become the "standard" way for the majority of people to think?
In the beginning it is usually the superintendent, school board member, or other influential member in a school who decides to ignore the negative effects of standards. In essence they ignore the fact that teachers become technicians and are forced to follow exact guidelines that they are controlled by. They ignore the children who suffer from the tests because they simply canít compete with the rest of the children. They ignore the fact that students are unable to construct their own learning. Alfie Kohn points out, "When teachers are told exactly what and how to teach, when they feel pressured to produce results, they in turn tend to pressure their students. That is exactly what another study found: teachers who felt controlled became more controlling, removing virtually any opportunities for students to direct their own learning (The same thing is on display in corporations: the middle managers who are most rigidly controlled by top executives tend to do the same to their subordinates) (Kohn, 1999)." The schools are turned in looking more like businesses.
The next thing that influential member does is to give the tests more often and get more publicity by distributing test scores, Educators care because they are forced to care. If their students donít do well, they are punished. The students can be punished as well for low-test scores. This is more of a scare tactic than a form of motivation. People cease to be motivated from the inside and instead focus on the outer forces of test scores.
In reality test scores are not indicators of a personís worth. They are indicators of how affluent a personís family is and their economic background. Teachers who administer the tests one year are held accountable (or punished) for the educational background their children have had in the previous years they did not have that teacher. More money is given to those schools who produce high-test scores instead of to the schools who would benefit most from the money. It leads to teaching to the test because in order to keep their jobs teachers need the students to do well on the tests (Kohn, 1999).
After discussing these horrible and damaging effects of high-stakes testing, many people may feel that there is no hope. They may question what we can do in a system that is so clearly controlled. The good news is that there are steps to take. But, the road is not easy and there are obstacles ahead. A person must be clearly decisive in order to proceed. If decided, we have included some strategies that will be informative and helpful.
First of all, do your research. We have produced a web site that will provide links to research and books to look into. It also provides you with strategies to take. With easy access to the Internet you can do your research there. Most local libraries can help. You can use that research to help influence your school superintendent and/or state legislators. Alfie Kohn, a renowned author of many books about standardized testing, suggests that a survey be done in the school. He states that, "A group of psychologists at the University of Michigan have found it useful to ask these questions:
Do the tests improve studentsí motivation? Do parents understand the results? Do teachers think that the tests measure the curriculum fairly? Do administrators use the results wisely? How much money is spent on assessment and related services? How much time do teachers spend preparing students for various tests? Do the media report the data accurately and thoroughly? Our surveys suggest that many districts will be shocked to discover the degree of dissatisfaction among stakeholders. (Kohn, 1999)"
It is a personís right and responsibility to look into these questions. Is it not right to support something you donít know much about? Just because everyone else is doing it, doesnít make it right! Teachers may have to prepare the students for the tests but then get back to the real teaching. There may be different ways to develop learning the information for the tests where students are more involved with the construction of learning. We should all be working on developing alternatives and not becoming too content with the high-stakes system.
Teachers, administrators, parents, and children should become part of the effort to phase out high-stakes testing. They have to create alliances in order to do this. They can ignore the media publicity of high-scores on tests. They can educate other people on the fact that high-scores do not indicate the worth of the education a child is getting. They can lobby for changes. They can create enthusiasm for the community instead of for the grades.
It takes courage to take any of these steps because you will be going against the majority. It will be worth taking a stand. We are supposed to do no harm to our children. How can we continue to stand silently by while this high-stakes system continues? To stand silently and not cause waves is not worth the destruction that will come (and already has) to the children if changes are not made. It is your responsibility as a citizen and we put our faith in you.
Please visit, http://www.education.cortland.edu/~slekart/silmcnweb/spashscreen.html for a comprehensive strategy.
Bracey, G. (2001).Test scores in the long run.Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 637-638.Retrieved May 31, 2001 from Proquest database on the World Wide Web; http://www.proquest.com.
Kohn, A. (1999).The schools are children deserve: moving beyond traditional classrooms and "tougher standards".New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Popham, J. (2001).Teaching to the test.Educational Leadership, 58, 16-20. Retrieved May 31, 2001 from Proquest database on the World Wide Web; http://www.proquest.com
Tennessee Department of Education. (http://www.state.tn.us/education/)
The Education and Research Network(AERA).(http://www.aera.net/about/policy/stakes.htm)
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