High stakes tests have become the “Big Brother” of education, always there watching, waiting, and demanding our time. As preparing for tests, taking pre-tests, reliably filling in bubbles, and then taking the actual assessments skulk into our classroom, something else of value is replaced since there are only so many hours in a day. In my opinion, tests are replacing high quality teaching and much needed programs such as music and art. I have mulled this over for the last few months, and the result is a list of pros and cons regarding tests.
- They help teachers understand what students have learned and what they need to learn.
- They give teachers information to use in planning instruction.
- Tests help schools evaluate the effectiveness of their programs.
- They help districts see how their students perform in relation to other students who take the same test.
- The results help administrators and teachers make decisions regarding the curriculum.
- Tests help parents/guardians monitor and understand their child's progress.
- They can help in diagnosing a student's strengths and weaknesses.
- They keep the testing companies in business and the test writers extremely busy.
- Tests give armchair educators and politicians fodder for making laws on something they know little about.
- They sort and label very young students, and those labels are nearly impossible to change.
- Some tests are biased which, of course, skew the data.
- They are used to assess teachers in inappropriate ways. (high scores = pay incentives?)
- They are used to rank schools and communities. (Those rankings help real estate agents, but it is unclear how they assist teachers or students.)
- They may be regarded as high stakes for teachers and schools, but many parents and students are indifferent or apathetic.
- They dictate or drive the curriculum without regard to the individual children we teach.
- Often, raising the test scores becomes the single most important indicator of overall school improvement.
- Due to the changing landscape of the testing environment, money needed for teachers and the classroom often goes to purchasing updated testing materials.
- Under Federal direction, national testing standards usurp the authority of the state and local school boards.
- Often they are not aligned with the curriculum a district is using; so, curriculum is often changed or narrowed to match the tests.
Questions That Need to Be Asked
- What is the purpose of the test?
- How will the results be communicated and used by the district?
- Is the test a reflection of the curriculum that is taught?
- Will the results help teachers be better teachers and give students ways to be better learners?
- Does it measure both a student's understanding of concepts as well as the process of getting the answer?
- Is it principally made up of multiple choice questions or does it does it contain any performance based assessment?