By in Random

Standardized Testing in Schools Comes Under Federal Scrutiny

Since George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law on January 8, 2002 , standardized testing in schools has increased substantially from what it had been in years past. Federal guidelines were established that each state was mandated to follow. As the years have passed, more parents, students and educators have been vocal in their concerns that such testing has become excessive.

Elected officials in Congress and the president are acting on those concerns, with legislation pending in both bodies of Congress to amend some part of No Child Left Behind. President Obama, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are also making some changes at the administrative level. Neither the legislature nor the administration is calling for the eradication of the standardized tests, but compromises and improved methods of testing are being reviewed.

Returning the Joy and Fun to Teaching and Learning

A study of the 66 largest school systems in the United States revealed that between 20 and 25 classroom hours per school year are spent taking the standardized tests. What no one knows, or is able to accurately measure, is how much classroom time is spent in teaching to the tests and preparing students to take the tests.

Have our educators become almost robots in the sense that they must teach to those tests, since many states use the data from the tests to levy public funds and provide "grade cards" for individual school systems? Is it possible to have enough hours in the school year for educators to do all this, in addition to teaching critical thinking skills and providing intellectual challenges for the students?

What about the students themselves? How does this increase in testing affect them mentally and emotionally? Isn't there already enough in a young person's life to cause anxiety without the added pressure of standardized testing?

There are many considerations in this issue, many more than I've listed here. I'm interested in learning what educators, parents and even students think and feel about the standardized testing issue.

Here's a video from "Last Week Tonight" on this very topic: John Oliver on standardized testing in schools


- - -

Image Credit » by PeteLinforth

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


wolfgirl569 wrote on October 25, 2015, 9:54 PM

I think it was a good idea but like many other good ideas they have went overboard with it. Take the no drug and gun rules for school. N one can even have aspirin with them or they will be thrown out of school and I heard of a grade schoolers mom having to take the toy soldiers off of cupcakes that she had for his birthday. Because they had rifles on them.

Feisty56 wrote on October 25, 2015, 10:07 PM

I swear that's how American does just about everything -- either too much or far too little. In time, the pendulum swings to the middle. In the meantime, we have moms taking toy soldiers off of cupcakes. : )

cheri wrote on October 25, 2015, 10:22 PM

Here in our country I believe that there is a need for educators and other stake holders to sit down and discuss about the educational system seriously.

Feisty56 wrote on October 25, 2015, 11:01 PM

Do you see any evidence this might happen in the near future -- to begin addressing the issues in education?

wolfgirl569 wrote on October 25, 2015, 11:19 PM

yep it is sad, I am sure none of these ideas were meant to be taken to the extremes that they have.

Paulie wrote on October 25, 2015, 11:47 PM

There is also standardized testing in Thailand schools. The results of these standardized tests are using in determining which students get admitted to the better junior and senior high schools, and also colleges. When I went to school in the 50s and early 60s, the only standardized tests I took were the ACT and SAT for college admission.

morilla wrote on October 26, 2015, 12:30 AM

A big part of the problem is that the tests no longer measure skills and abilities. They measure trivia and process; i.e., unrelated bits of information and a "way" of thinking. Students now enter college without being able to derive a simple percentage. It's not all about "Common Core;" but, it's certainly not helping as an article from today indicates...

It's easy to pick on math and arithmetic. However, the joke that's been going around for 20 years, "Teaching Math Through the Decades," is indicative of the overall problem. It used to be about teaching basic skills and critical thinking for more effective citizenship; e.g., students emerge more capable of making a contribution to society. Now it's about a whole series of 'goals' which feature various agendas and have little to do with the practical aspects of teaching/learning. Success is no longer defined as having a base level of information and problem solving abilities. Instead, it's about how the student feels about themselves and others.

BarbRad wrote on October 26, 2015, 4:20 AM

That won't help much in keeping people safe. It will make sure innocent people are punished for violating stupid rules, but no one in charge has any repercussions from violating the principles of common sense.

BarbRad wrote on October 26, 2015, 4:22 AM

I'm not sure they want students to learn critical thinking. It might interfere with the indoctrination being dispensed in public schools.

markgraham wrote on October 26, 2015, 9:32 AM

I feel the same way school is not fun to learn anymore. I remember the only years that I had to take standardized tests were the third grade year and the next time I had to take any sort of standardized test was in my freshman year of high school with the Primary Abilities test, the Differential Appitude Test (sorry about the spelling). I liked going to school my teachers especially in the elementary grades always had many projects that taught the students the necessary skills. I remember making dioramas, collages and other things in the core subjects not just the elective courses. I remember recess and phys. ed. I remember being able to go to the nurse for an aspirin or a Tylenol for a headache and the nurse did call my parents to do this though, but I remember being able to carry around cough drops when I had a sore throat and coughing. School is not the same.

paigea wrote on October 26, 2015, 1:30 PM

Any test is just a snapshot of how a student did on that particular day. It can give a teacher indications for what is needed but it is so sad to see funding etc. based on these tests. This has been such a long term issue in Alberta. Especially when an outside agency (Fraser Institute) ranks schools in the province based on these test scores. No consideration is taken for how much progress students in a particular area may have made, just that one test score.

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 6:51 PM

I recall taking what was called the Iowa Basic Skills test in elementary and junior high school, then the SAT and ACT in high school. The students today are doing many more tests than this.

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 6:54 PM

I'm always pleased to read your take on topics because you seem so well-informed. : ) Thanks for the link to the article in Business Insider; I'm going to give that a read.

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 6:57 PM

I can't begin to know the frustration educators must feel with the way things have changed in schools over the years. As DWDavisRSL has mentioned, his paperwork takes a tremendous amount of time. The more the government intrudes into anything, the more paperwork is required -- I've never seen it to fail.

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 7:06 PM

Depending on the school system, some schools are more like detention centers than school as I remember it. My son had a policeman who was assigned to his high school pull a gun on him when he was in the hallway between classes. Not an atmosphere that is conducive to learning or even a place the kids want to be.

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 7:09 PM

I can only imagine the stress which teachers and students must function when there is the pressure that is attached to these tests. To my way of thinking, choosing to use the results of a single test is just as arbitrary a reflection of a school system as anything that had been used in the past.

morilla wrote on October 26, 2015, 8:02 PM

Then here's one which came out today you might find interesting...

Bear in mind the correlation between the time spent testing and the time spent in class "teaching to the test." In other words, it's not just about the tests themselves, but about how much time is spent in preparing students to pass the tests versus teaching 'other things.'

Feisty56 wrote on October 26, 2015, 8:13 PM

Exactly! Those poor teachers must feel more like robots spitting that stuff out.

Lillybell wrote on October 26, 2015, 9:11 PM

I'm starting to think the Government should just stay out of public education policies altogether. Leave that to the ones who went to school for it. Teachers know how to teach children, that's what they went to school for, let them do their job.

DWDavisRSL wrote on October 26, 2015, 9:45 PM

When third graders get so stressed out about an end-of-year test that they are puking, there is a problem with the test. When parents are writing letters to explain why their children won't be taking "those damnable EOG tests" there is a problem. When the tests stop being used to measure individual student achievement but are instead used to evaluate teacher performance with the student having absolutely no stake in the outcome as is now the case in North Carolina, there is a problem. The tests are too long, written by PhD's to satisfy their need to prove how smart they are, and have nothing to do with the actual abilities of the students who take them. A student passes with a high level score if they answer 55% or more of the questions correctly. What good is a test if they expect even the best students to miss nearly half the questions?

DWDavisRSL wrote on October 26, 2015, 9:50 PM

At my school we have set aside 35 minutes of instructional time a day for special classes all students attend that are 100% about teaching to the test. Even though schools are no longer allowed in this state to even take the End-of-Grade test scores into consideration for promotion or retention, so the students have no stake in doing well or not, the teachers and principals are still judged almost solely on whether or not the students show growth. This is akin to telling the players on a team that they will get paid the same no matter how well they play or if they win or not, and then turning around and telling the coach that if the team doesn't win by a bigger margin every game, the coach will be fired.

morilla wrote on October 26, 2015, 10:24 PM

That's a perception which doesn't necessarily hold up to reality. Teachers don't necessarily know how to "teach" anymore. Their scholastic background has more to do with theory, law, research, and process than actually learning how to "teach." In a sense, the schools are generating technicians rather than teachers.

Teaching is, in part, an innate ability. It is refined through experience. In other words, teaching is one side of the coin, learning is the other. You must know how to learn to be able to teach. If learning is defined as a more or less permanent change in behavior resulting from practice, then teaching could be defined along the same lines. It's one of the reasons a lot teachers will tell you they learn as much as their students.

You would be shocked to learn how many of the 'standards in education' are established. It's not about conducting research. It's often about taking a group of 'teachers,' putting them in a room, and allowing them to come up with standards based on their 'collective years' in teaching. Much of the actual research conducted and printed has to do with two things: publishing and contributing to the discipline. A lot of it anymore has to do with agenda; agenda which tends to contribute to the teachers being generated by the system in terms of a number of things - dint of personality, hiring/retention, publications/presentations, committees, et al.

Very little of it has anything to do with application; i.e., what actually happens, hands-on, in a classroom or in terms of how an individual student actually learns. It's precisely why you now have things like Common Core and all the confusion and dissonance it's generated. It's why, as DWDavisRSL points out above that they set aside 35 minutes a day to "teach to the test." It's why BarbRab refers to "indoctrination" above. It's why... Well, a whole lot of "why's" when it comes to tests vs. actual learning.

Paulie wrote on October 26, 2015, 11:33 PM

I personally feel that all of these standardized tests aren't necessary. An aptitude test after the sixth and ninth grades would be sufficient for me.

Feisty56 wrote on October 27, 2015, 9:40 AM

I fully understand why school systems are teaching to the tests, The way the system is now designed, it's as much about survival as it can be. I can't imagine this was truly the intent, but it's the reality of how it's been applied.

Thank you for adding to the discussion and understanding here. : )

Feisty56 wrote on October 27, 2015, 9:44 AM

As so often happens when the Federal government becomes involved in any issue, there are those one-size-fits-all rules that each state must then try to work with and incorporate. I think the intent of No Child Left Behind is a positive one. I think the way its manifested itself is something else altogether.

Feisty56 wrote on October 27, 2015, 9:53 AM

One of my daughters is currently taking classes to obtain her intervention specialist certificate/degree. It's a specialized type of teaching, for those students who have various developmental and/or behavioral issues. Just from talking with her about some of what she is learning, I know that Common Core is a frequent topic as are the other general areas that you've mentioned.

I don't pretend to know a great deal more about teaching specifically, but I see via my grandchildren how things are going in their schools and in their learning. As a grandparent and a taxpayer I have concerns about all of this and sincerely hope soon this can be sorted out in a common sense manner.

Feisty56 wrote on October 27, 2015, 9:59 AM

Now those are some crazy tests! Fifty-five percent answered correctly equals a high level score -- I'm with you -- what's the point? What a sense of failure just taking a test that difficult must be for the students as they take it. It would almost be like trying to take a test written in a foreign language!

This system of standardized tests is broken -- there's no way around it. I hope for the sake of the students and teachers such as yourself that the solutions come sooner than later.

Lillybell wrote on October 27, 2015, 2:48 PM

That explains a lot, then. I would have thought that after four years in college and their year or two as student teachers, they would know what they were doing. Maybe we should be reforming the way teachers are "taught" to teach?

However, I do feel my point still stands that the Government would not know best how to fix the problem. A teacher sees the problem hands on and should have a better idea of how to fix things. I have also always felt that it wasn't fair to punish the students with all these tests just because it is thought that the teachers are failing to do their jobs.

morilla wrote on October 27, 2015, 9:43 PM

Their 4 year degree typically has nothing to do with actual teaching. The first two years is a series of courses dubbed General Education; i.e., 'leveling courses' which provide a sequence of knowledge in English, Math, Social Studies, Science, etc. The second two years is a series of courses in the specific, chosen subject. The credentials program is generally 2 semesters. The first semester is primarily taking courses, with a focus on mechanics such as Education Psychology, English, Education Law, etc. The second semester, you spend in a classroom as a teacher; but, you're not a "full time" teacher and how much 'instruction' you receive will depend greatly on the actual teacher you are assigned to.

There are variations, to a certain degree, on the program, depending on your focus; but, the general gist is that you get a limited amount of time actually teaching in that 4 + 1 years. That's assuming you actually go through a credentials program. There are other ways to obtain the credentials; but, you seem focused on "going through 4 years of college."

Insofar as the Government in Education, that's long been a source of debate. However, so long as it is a Public Education based system, paid for by taxes, the Government is going to be involved to one degree or another. In fact, this is why some private schools refuse to take Government sourced funding; i.e., that would make them subject to Government regulations. However, even the private institutions must meet State standards and, in part, that's where the tests come in. It's not about 'punishing' students because teachers are failing.

It used to be about measuring individual, academic progress among students. As DWSDavisRSL indicates below, it's now become about school funding, teacher evaluation, etc. Where results used to be utilized to help identify where a given student might be strong/weak in a given area, they are now used, in aggregate, as a 'qualifier' for school/district funding, a standard of performance in teacher evaluations and retention decisions, etc. That puts considerable pressure on teachers and, in many respects, forces them to "teach to the test" to insure a specific level of result.

As I indicated previously, allowing 'teachers' to set standards can be a bit problematic at the State or Federal level. Most academic control, at the K-12 level, comes down to the school district. However, once again, they have to answer to State/Federal standards, mandates, and regulations (with the State being the primary player) as well as local parental demands. You cannot have 10 schools in a given district, each with highly different standards. That would create exponential problems as you expand to the city, then county, then State, then Federal levels. In many respects, that defeats the purpose of 'public education' and presents problems in terms of 'accountability' in the context of spending tax dollars.

In short, it's 'easy' to say that "the Government" should stay out of it and that "teachers" should be allowed to "fix the problem." It's much more complex than that; particularly if you want to create and measure 'standards' or 'accomplishment' across a wide, geographic spectrum. Again, as DWSDavisRSL alludes to, a start would be to shift the emphasis of the tests back to individual, student achievement rather than tying it so heavily to funding and teacher retention decisions. Part of that shift would have to be a shift away from political/social agenda and a re-emphasis on basic, academic skills.

VinceSummers wrote on November 23, 2015, 9:57 AM

"It is not up to man, who is walking, even to direct his step." Fitting words, especially when it involves human organizations of the magnitude of government.