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Standardized Testing: Its Impact on American Education and Society

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Standardized Testing: Its Impact on American Education and Society: Schools all over the U.S are composed of many different types of students with diverse backgrounds. The goal of state officials is to improve education for students, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, through the use of standardized testing. Its primary purpose for electing service officials in ancient china has led to its adoption in the U.S as a method for seeking improvements in the education system through testing students. However, holding schools and teachers responsible for annually increasing the average scores has shifted the curricula to teaching to the test, in addition to, putting the well being of both teachers and students at risk. Although standardized testing in the U.S. has been in place for over a century, its initial use is associated back to ancient China where the public was selected for jobs through testing. The purpose for standardized tests has always been to measure the knowledge and ability that one acquires. According to Osman Ozturgut, this purpose for testing was originally illustrated in 605 B.C, during the Sui Dynasty. Government jobs were administered to those with fairly high knowledge of Confucian philosophy. However, this would not guarantee a job. In addition to being tested on Confucian philosophy, they were also tested on “military strategy, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture, geography…” (3). Standardized tests were used as a method to give applicants with specific abilities the right job. These tests were very important in that it assured the government the competence of those selected for the job. The use of these tests in ancient China set the stage for its use all over the world. The decision for teaching children of all different social classes led the U.S to using standardized tests. As seen in American history, lower class children were rarely educationally advantaged. Prior to the mid 1800’s, American education was pointed toward the elite. Their wealth created the opportunity for education and higher potential for success. However, according to Haladyna, Haas, and Allison, in 1840, America’s view of education shifted toward educating children of other classes as well as the elite. Therefore, standardized tests were used to seek the best educational opportunity for these children by evaluating their abilities in order to teach them efficiently (1-2). Standardized testing increased in the nineteen hundreds and was used as a method for placing students in programs and grade levels based on their scores. Prior to the mid nineteen hundreds, standardized testing began to become more popular. They were used by some facilities as the standard knowledge required by students (Yao 15). However, the use for standardized tests only became more common among several schools, around the mid nineteen hundreds. “Starting from the 1950’s, the federal government began to be involved in education, first through federal funding and later directly through a national standardized testing program…” (Yao 15). Standardized tests were efficient and accurate in predicting student abilities. Its low cost led state authorities to conveniently test students (Perone 134). However, the use of standardized tests reached its peak within the twenty- first century.
The No Child Left Behind Act passed by President Bush in 2001 called for countrywide use of standardized testing. According to Kate Menkin, to improve education in the U.S, President Bush enacted the No Child Left Behind act, which required schools all over the U.S to test students in grades three to eight on the dominating subjects, reading and math. “Ostensibly, standards and assessment offer a way to hold students, educators, schools, districts, and states accountable for student achievement” (Menkin 604). As a result of these standards, school officials are pressured to create better opportunities for all kinds of students to further succeed with each school year. Teachers are to teach more efficiently in order to increase scores on these standardized exams (Menkin 604).
Standardized tests not only set the standard for the amount of material needed to be covered by teachers each year, but also identifies issues within educational systems by the diverse questions asked on the exams. Standardized tests, such as subject tests, create national education standards for each grade level. These exams require all schools to teach the same amount of information that students will be tested on. It provides means for uniform curriculum across the U.S. In addition, subject tests provide school officials with the progress of each student. “Achievement tests are most effective at showing how well students have learned what they have been taught when the tests are clearly related to curricula…” (Cheney 3). Subject tests are given to benefit students. The types of questions asked determine capability of succeeding the more challenging courses. According to Haladyna, Haas, and Allison, grades received on tests aid teachers in determining whether students need help with a certain topic. If so, teachers group students based on their level of achievement. This prevents competition between more or less proficient students and a more efficient environment for learning (269). A very popular state- wide subject exam is the New York State Regents Exam. Such exams are created to assure students and officials of their abilities to successfully complete the following level. In addition, the Advanced Placement exams are given to “assess whether students have mastered what they have been given to study…” (Cheney 2). However, unlike other subject exams, the AP exams only benefit high school students in which they receive college credit in return to high scores. The scores received on different subjects on standardized tests are evaluated to improve the curriculum based on the subject which students received the lowest grades on. “The best predictors of future tests scores are past test scores. The best predictors of students grades are prior grades” (Haladyna, Haas, Allison 267). Previous failure of specific subject material on tests calls for revision of certain teaching methods or styles to increase scores in the future. In other words, it creates the opportunity to find the problem within the curriculum that may have caused high percentage of low grades and find a solution to it (Haladyna, Haas, Allison 267).
Over the years, scores received on standardized tests have set the ground for labeling students with different socioeconomic statuses. “Standardized tests punish poor, minority, special education, and non-English-speaking students in underfunded schools who must compete with middle class and wealthy students in well funded schools on the same high stakes tests” (E. Anderman, L. Anderman 462). These students lack the resources that may help them succeed. For example, those who don’t have homes to go to are more likely to score lower than other students. According to Mike Rose, these are students who are “too distressed to fit neatly into our classrooms” (120). Although they are intelligent, school officials label them with learning disabilities, which lowers their self-esteem even more. These are the students who don’t fit into the ideal American frame for education (120). As a result, these students are placed in vocational classes or put into the lower tracks. They lack the ability to learn the same way as those students who are more fortunate; therefore, a different teaching method would be more effective (E. Anderman, L. Anderman 462). Standardized testing has become the basis for beneficial opportunities for educational institutions rather than for the students attending the schools. According to Haladyna, Haas, and Allison, schools with the highest average of standardized tests scores are candidates for governmental grants.
Some educators might then produce fraudulent results by dismissing students who are likely to score low, reading the answers to students, or simply correcting students’ answer sheet after the test. Such practices have been well documented, when teachers and other educators feel no recourse other to tamper with the testing process. (268)
By doing this, faculty members miss out on the opportunity to teach their students what they fail to understand. As result, students may suffer on more challenging levels because of their absence of the material needed as a basis. Scores received on standardized tests have been used to filter out weaker teachers as opposed to strengthen their weaknesses. The desire to receive grants as well as maintaining their reputation has led schools to use standardized tests as a method to rate teachers. Teachers who had students with the lowest average of grades on these exams are fired and replaced with teachers who are guaranteed to increase test scores. In other words, schools look for teachers to teach to the test (Haladyna, Haas, Allison 267). The pressure on teachers to increase students’ standardized tests score leaves them to their only option, teaching to the test. The subjects that are covered on these exams include math and reading, therefore, due to the small amount of time given to teach students the material on exams, teachers focus almost entirely on math and reading.
[T]here are two senses in which teaching to the test can indeed be harmful: excessive preparation that focuses more on the format of the test and test-taking techniques than on the subject matter, and the reallocation of classroom time from subjects on which students are not tested (often art and physical education) to those on which they are…. (Phelps 38)
Teaching students test taking skills makes them lose out on the main purpose of education, critical thinking. Teachers teach students exactly what they need to put down on the test papers to get high scores. This results in the students’ inability to think on their own and find answer based on what they know. In addition, emphasis on test grades rather than actual understanding of the information may lead students to cheating. Teaching to the test is very misleading to students. Repetitive test taking skill lessons and acknowledgement that information need to be remembered for exams bring students to believe that intelligence is a result of high scores on exams not actually knowing the information. (R. Styron, J. Styron 24).
The pressure of having to do well on Standardized tests affects student health and motivation, as well as, teachers’ health and anxiety. According to Haladyna, Haas, and Allison, students’ health is put to risk when dealing with standardized exams. As a result of anxiety, students often feel sick prior to exams, which in fact does negatively affect the outcome of scores. In addition, students lose motivation to do well. For instance, upper-class high school students believe that these scores on subject tests don’t affect their acceptance to college. Therefore, they spend more time on studying for other exams, such as the SAT’s and ACT’s, often ignoring the importance of regent’s exams (Haladyna, Haas, Allison 269-270). The pressure to have students receives high scores on exams leave teachers in distress as well. The ideal average of scores on standardized tests leave teachers no choice but to ignore their own method and ideas of teaching and instead teach students only what they need to know for exams. Teachers are left time pressured with teaching the required information in addition to spending time on test taking skills. Teachers are also at risk of losing their jobs as a result of low score outcomes. In addition, results of low scores that may have not been in the teachers hands may make teachers feel incompetent (Haladyna, Haas, Allison 269-270). In conclusion, standardized testing has been around for a long time. Its initial use in ancient China as a method for admitting those seeking government jobs led to its use in the U.S. It is used as an efficient way to track improvement in individual children and as a tool to detect problems within the teaching system. However, the goal for standardized testing have shifted towards advantaging teaching facilities and determining student disabilities rather than helping students overcome their struggles. As a result, curricula have been affected due to the pressure on teachers to improve scores annually. Students have lost the opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving to test taking skills and time management on these exams. As a result, this has impacted teachers and students negatively. The pressure on teachers to improve student scores and the pressure on students to do well on these exams has created health issues for both teachers and students.

Works Cited

"High Stakes Testing." Psychology of Classroom Learning: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Eric M. Anderman and Lynley H. Anderman. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. 461-463. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
Cheney, Lynne V. "National tests: What other countries expect their students to know.." National Endowment for the Humanities 57.2 45. Academic Search Complete. Database. 20 Dec 2013.
Haladyna, Thomas, Nancy Haas, and Jeanette Allison. "Continuing Tensions in Standardized Testing." Childhood Education 74.5 (1998): 262-73. ProQuest. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
Menken, Kate. "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Testing Requirements." Encyclopedia of Bilingual Education. Ed. Josué M. González. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008. 604-607. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
Özturgut, Osman. "Standardized Testing in the Case of China and the Lessons to be Learned for the U.S." Journal of International Education Research 7.2 (2011): 1. ProQuest. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
Perone, Vito. "On Standardized Testing." Childhood Education (1991): 11. ProQuest Research Library. Database. 20 Dec 2013.
Rose, Mike. Live on the boundary: a moving account of the struggles and achievements of America's educationally underprepared. New York: Penguin Books, 1989. 67-132. Print.
Solley, Bobbie A. "On Standardized Testing: An ACEI Position Paper." Childhood Education 84.1 (2007): 31-37. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Dec. 2013. Yao, Yuankun. "Achievement Tests." Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. Ed. Fenwick W. English. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2006. 15-18. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.

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