Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of teachers more than standardized tests. Many weeks are spent preparing students to do well on state mandated achievement tests. In addition to teaching students how to take standardized tests, teachers spend a great deal of time stressed and panicked about how well their students will perform. When public school funding is based on achievement test scores teachers realize how important it is for their students to do well. However, standardized tests are only one type of testing (Peterson & Neill, 1999).
The purpose of standardized tests is to show students, parents, teachers and school districts how well students are performing. This is an important goal because parents and communities have a right to know how well their children are doing in school (Peterson & Neill, 1999). There are many alternatives to standardized testing that can provide the same results without all the stress (Peterson & Neill, 1999). A discussion of why standardized testing should be decreased is offered. This discussion includes suggestions for increasing authentic assessments that are based on the success of students not on test scores.
It also includes an evaluation of an assessment program. Teachers feel pressured to “teach to the test” and to cover a specific amount of curricular content so that students will perform proficiently on standardized tests (McKenna, 1999). While it is certainly wise to prepare students to take the test, the amount of testing must be decreased so that students can engage in more in depth learning. Teachers are reluctant to allow students to pursue additional information and to find out more about what interests them because they worry that this time will take away from time spent preparing them for the test (McKenna, 1999).
In doing so, students are robbed of authentic learning experiences that will remain with them long after they have finished the test. Standardized tests are not the best way to assess student progress (Rapp, 2001). Tests only measure what a student is able to do on any given day. A recent survey shows that ninety percent of board certified teachers believe that students and schools are being harmed by the emphasis placed on standardized tests (Rapp, 2001). This is a startling statistic that shows the need to decrease the amount of standardized testing that is done in schools and shift focus to alternate ways of assessing student growth.
From personal experience, standardized tests don’t accurately assess student growth and tend to biased towards students who take tests well. This takes fairness out of standardized tests. It’s not fair that some students are labeled as proficient while others are labeled otherwise based on test taking skills. Many education scholars will argue that the test is fair because all students take the same test. This simply isn’t true. In addition to test taking skills background knowledge plays a role in how well students perform.
Foreign students and ESL students will not perform as well and it isn’t fair to label them. When it comes to assessing quality, accuracy in measurement is elusive (Wasserman, 2001). Statistical significance cannot be mistaken for educational significance (Buros, 1977). Authentic assessments must be increasingly used in classrooms so that teachers, parents and communities are able to see student growth that is based on actual learning not the ability to fill in bubbles. Standardized tests assume there is only one answer to a problem (Wasserman, 2001).
Observing students work and analyzing the completion of their work will tell a teacher much more than a standardized test ever will. There are several alternative assessments that can take the place of standardized tests. Completed student work is one assessment tool that can tell a teacher so much about what a student has learned. Original, inventive and creative work must be encouraged instead of teaching to the test (Wasserman, 2001). Self-evaluations allow students to take pride in their accomplishments while encouraging them to continue to grow as a learner (Wasserman, 2001).
The use of rethinking and reworking is also enormously useful in showing teachers what students have learned (Wasserman, 2001). Teacher observation is a powerful assessment tool that allows both the teacher and the student to see measurable progress over short and long periods of time (Wasserman, 2001). From personal experience these types of assessments are fair because each student is being assessed on his or her individual academic abilities and are not being compared to others.