Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.8.1

Educational Reform: The Case For Standardized Testing
By Lauren Kathryn Crawford

Preparation, sweaty palms, anxiety over the results, these could all either be symptoms of a hot date, or of the dreaded t-word, test. In particular standardized testing which causes anxiety to everyone in the educational system from the President of the United States, to school boards, principals, teachers and students.

In the following article we are going to discuss the standardized testing, its' criticisms, the necessity for its' existence, and how to use the results as an instructor to help narrow achievement gaps.

A principal from an Appalachian school in eastern Kentucky,

"There's a school eighteen miles down the road that has 80%

of the kids on free and reduced lunch... and they are at a

Higher absolute rank," to his teaching staff, "Don't bring up

to me about how our kids are disadvantaged. 'That dog won't


Learning Targets

1. The student will be able to identify basic subject areas of standardized testing and understand how it is scored.

2. The student will be able to identify the arguments against standardized testing.

3. The student will be able to identify the benefits of standardized testing.

4. The student will be able to recognize some ways that results can help him/her as an instructor to help narrow achievement gaps in their classroom.

Standardized Testing Edit

Since the 1970's, standardized tests have been the aim of much criticism in the United States, but their basic purpose is to serve as a measure or rule of preparedness in the early grades and mastery of core subject matter in later grades (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

School entry test like the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised and The Stanford Binet- Intelligence tests are intended to determine the readiness levels of kindergartners entering schools (Rock, Stenner, 2005). These tests measure the vocabulary and cognitive ability of a child(Rock, Stenner, 2005). Similar tests are conducted in groups or individually throughout the year and many of these tests are adaptive and measure progress,they are not static measures that result in either a passing or failing grade (Rock, Stenner, 2005). An adaptive test instead uses what is known as a floor/ceiling rule (Rock, Stenner, 2005). This rule means that (in the case of vocabulary testing) a group of words will be easy for the student, falling below the floor, while a group of words will be more difficult for the student, above the ceiling (Rock, Stenner, 2005). Throughout the year progress will dictate what level the ceiling and floor will move to (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

Other tests, like the SOL used in Virginia are used to determine mastery of core subject matter taught throughout the year (Bagin, 1994). Generally, these tests measure understanding in mathematics, science, reading and writing (Bagin, 1994). Some tests, the SOL is an example, are given at a predetermined time and scoring is based on either multiple choice, short answer or open response (Bagin,Stenner 1994). Another type of testing, used in states like Kentucky uses a portfolio system that students add to all year long in conjunction with a time allotted test at another time of the year (Wolf, Borko, Elliot, 2000).

All of these tests are graded on a percentile system (Rock, Stenner, 2005). That is, how well the student does on the test in comparison with other students tested at the same grade level (Rock, Stenner, 2005). For example, a student who scores in the 90th percentile has done better than 90 percent of other students taking the test (How Standardized Testing, 2009). A student that test in the 10th percentile has only done better than 10 percent of his/her peers (How Standardized Testing, 2009).

Scores on these tests are used in a number of ways. Collectively, nation-wide these scores tell our president how well our students are doing as a whole and at the state level (Bagin, 1994). States allocate funding based on test results and individual schools determine which programs need more improvement (King, Houston, Middleton, 2000). Teachers use these scores to evaluate their teaching methods and yes, these scores are also used at times to determine the readiness of students to continue to the next grade level (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

Criticisms of Standardized Testing Edit

Opponents to current standardized testing techniques dislike test like the Peabody and the SOL for a number of reasons, but the two main arguments are against their reliability and what they see as racial bias existing in the questions themselves.

In order for a test to be deemed useful, it must above all else be reliable (Rock, Stenner, 2005). That is that results should be consistent (Rock, Stenner, 2005). One way tests are measured for consistency is by doing sample runs with panels of a representative sample of students (Rock, Stenner, 2005). Sample runs of the tests are conducted in two different ways:

1. Two versions of the test with like questions are run. If the test is reliable similar results should be yielded by both groups of test takers (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

2. A single test is randomly and equally divided (Rock, Stenner, 2005). This test is ran and reliability is determined by the similarity of these results (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

The results of these sample runs are measured in much the same way that standardized tests results are measured. A rating of 90% means a test yields similar results 90 percent of the time while a rating of 10% would mean that the test yields similar results only ten percent of the time.

Because it is generally accepted that the range of achievement cannot be accurately predicted; a reliability rating of eighty-percent or more is seen as acceptable by national standards and critics disagree (Thernstrom, 1992).

Critics believe that if a test yields dissimilar results even only twenty percent of the time that the test could not possibly be measuring what it is intended to (Thernstrom, 1992(.

Other critics of the tests believe that they are racially biased for a number of reasons (King et al., 2000). One basis for this belief is that the achievement gap between students of European heritage typically score much higher than minorities do (Thernstrom, 1992). One test for scholastic readiness showed that when test results were compared between students of European heritage and those of African descent, the former group scored higher seventy-six percent of the time, while the latter only scored higher twenty-four (Rock, Stenner, 2005).

On the other hand,some questions are viewed as being racially biased because they are deemed as culturally irrelevant (Thernstrom, 1992). For example, a question that asks "What is the name of a baby cow?", is more relevant to someone growing up in a rural area than someone living in an urban one (Thernstrom, 1992). Some critiques even believe that language tests are racially biased because they see one form of spoken language as correct while another form of the same language as incorrect (Thernstrom, 1992).

A Need For Change: The Case for Standardized Testing Edit

While both critiques and proponents of standardized testing could debate their sides all day, the need to assess students to determine both their progress and the progress of their teachers and schools is undeniable.

Standardized testing evaluates students early in their education on their readiness both scholastically and behaviorally (Rock, Stenner, 2005). Students and their parents are able to measure at least generally their progress and areas in which they need improvement (Wolf et al., 2000).

In older grades standardized testing measures where students rate in comparison with their peers and thus how the student and his teachers are doing (Bagin, 1994). While these test do rate students according to how well they do on these tests, some schools have used these scores to reform their systems and in turn drastically improve their methods (Wolf et al., 2000).

Schools in economically devastated areas like the ones in eastern Kentucky, have under the strong leadership of their principals and the dedication of their teachers achieved higher ratings (Wolf et al., 2000). One principal of such a school stated, "there's a school 18 miles down the road that has 80% of their kids on free and reduced lunch... and they have made progress and are at a higher absolute rank." To his teachers this same principal would say, " Don't bring up to me about how our kids are disadvantaged. That dog won't hunt." The latter part of the statement is a local expression he used in this case to mean that excuses would not help their school improve (Wolf et al., 2000).

Instead of making excuses, schools that have taken poor standardized testing results and used them to improve their schools, have used them more in how one principal put it, as "stock market quotes." They see poor results in one area as a flag to improve that department (Wolf et al., 2000). They have teachers take classes in new teaching methods and they work together to see that their children improve (Wolf et al., 2000).

While the jury is still out on whether or not there is a better method of determining individual student progress. The need for a common measure to compare students to bring about change is still more present than ever.

How to use Standardized Testing Results to Bridge Achievement Gaps Edit

So the question is, is if these test are not completely reliable, and if they are irrelevant to some students, how do we change that?

The answer: Be Innovative Forward Thinking Teachers!

The best teachers, one principal, stated were teachers that were in fact themselves learners (Wolf et al., 2000). Actively seeking out new methods to add to and modify their instruction (Wolf et al., 2000). The teachers that work together with parents and their fellow students as well as counselors to understand individual needs (Wolf et al.). Lastly the teachers that ignore the pessimism of others and raise expectation levels of their students and make the material relevant for those it might not other wise be ( Wolf et al., 2000).

Several companies currently travel from state to state and hold seminars and lesson demos (Wolf, et al., 2000). These seminars cover an array of matter from core areas like writing and math to how to incorporate technology into their lessons (Wolf et al., 2000). The attitude today is to work smarter not harder (Wolf et al., 2000). Teachers that attend these continuing education generally report positive feedback (Wolf et al., 2000). One teacher reported after a lesson demo on writing where they had students add a reflection to a narrative assignment, "I think what I've learned here is not something completely different from what I've been doing all together but adding to it. I'm really excited about this!" Other lessons show teachers how to incorporate technology into their daily activities to make planning easier and to tie lessons together (Wolf et al., 2000).

Also, schools seemed to do better when the idea of community was present.(Wolf et al., 2000) At one school where major improvements have been said to occur a teacher spoke of how there was a concept of the students being the schools responsibility and not just the particular teacher that they happened to have that year (Wolf et al., 2000). Dedicated teachers attend meetings sometimes daily with other teachers and counselors of the students to better grasp their backgrounds and particular predicaments (Wolf et al., 2000).

Lastly, despite criticisms of standardized testing, the proficient teachers of today do not accept that their students have limitations, or are incapable of learning any given concept. Instead these teacher work hard everyday to make material relevant for their children and develop lesson plans that speak to individual lesson plans.

Tips to Narrow Achievement Gaps

1. Ask parents to talk to their kids and explain the importance of education to them; that education is a necessary step to professional success in America.(In a study high achievers commonly had parents that expressed these views.)(Lee, 1994)

2. Assess students often to keep track of their progress and give encouragement throughout the school year.

3. Understand that poor assessments might be the result of language barriers or a stressful home environment, have a plan to address these types of issues(Lee, 1994).

Questions Edit

1. A student that scores in the 90th percentile on a standardized test like the SOL has scored how?

    a)Better than 90 percent of his/her peers.
    b)Worse than 90 percent of his/her peers.
    c)Worse than 90 of his/her peers.
    d)Better than 90 of his/her peers.

2. Which of these is NOT a criticism of standardized testing?

    a)It is unreliable.
    b)Its' results can be used by teachers and the educational system as a whole to improve their methods.
    c)It is racially biased because it asks questions that are unrelated to some students' culture.
    d)It puts unreasonable pressure on students and teachers to do well.

3. A teacher has just reviewed the results from this years SOL. She notices that even her students who received high scores in both the math and verbal seemed to fail to grasp long division. She should...

    a)Focus on verbal instruction since the students did well in that area.
    b)Use the same verbal instruction method year after year since that seemed to work and reform her long division plans.
    c) Reteach the lesson in long division and find a reliable teacher whose students did well on that part of the test for some ideas on how to improve her instruction.
    d) Give up, these disadvantaged kids are incapable of learning anything anyway!

4. A quiet, hard working young Asian student Chris Young is getting farther and farther behind in his studies and has done poorly on the reading portion of his SOL. He refuses to go to after school help sessions and only socializes with other Asian students. All of the following might encourage this student to do better EXCEPT...

    a)Give Chris a sheet of resources that offer online help to students with language barriers.  Being online might reduce any embarrassment he may have in learning English as a second language if this is a problem he is encountering.
    b)Discuss his progress with his family. In some Asian cultures failure is seen as an embarrassment and Chris might not admit that he is having difficulty before it is too late.
    c)Create lesson plans that allow for group work so that Chris has a chance to socialize with different types of students and might be more comfortable with getting help.
    d)Ignore the issue Asian kids ALWAYS do better on things like standardized testing, this is obviously a failure of the test!

Answers Edit

1.A 2. B 3. C 4. D

References Edit

Bagin, C.B. (1994, February 2). What parents should know about standardized testing in schools. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from Standardized testing Web site:

(2009). How standardized testing damages education. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from Fair test Web site:

King, L.A., Houston, I.S., & Middleton, R.A An explanation for school failure: moving beyond Black Inferiority and Alienation as a policy-making agenda. British Journal of Educational Studies, 49, Retrieved March 30, 2009, from

Lee, J.S., & Bowen, N.K. (2006). Parent involvement, cultural capital, and the achievement gap among elementary school children. American Educational Research Journal, 43, Retrieved March 30, 2009, from

Lee, S.J. (1994). Behind the model-minority stereotype: voices of high- and Low-Achieving Asian American students. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 24, Retrieved March 30, 2009, from

Rock, D.A., & Stenner , J.A. (2005). Assessment issues in the testing of children at school entry. The Future of Children, 15, Retrieved March 30, 2009, from

Thernstrom, A. (1992). The drive for racially inclusive schools. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 523, Retrieved March 30, 2009, from

Wolf, S.A., Borko, H., Elliot, R.L., & McIver, M.C. (2000). "That dog won't hunt":exemplary school change efforts within the Kentucky reform. American Educational Research Reform, 37, RetrievedMarch 30, 2009, from

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