Essay On Standardized Testing And Education: Help Or Hindrance?
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Educators are experiencing almost relentless pressure to show their effectiveness. Unfortunately, the chief indicator by which most communities judge a school staff’s success is student performance on standardized achievement tests. (Popham, 1999).
In the past, education in the United States used to be considered something that was dealt with at the local and state level. However, the past three decades suggest that education has become a national issue that continues to be endemically flawed. Although it is now the twenty-first century, many schools across the United States continue to be segregated; one’s quality of education usually undergirded the kind of job one would get in the future; and even those who become successful in their careers are quite ignorant of basic facts about geography and history. An historian of American education and the former assistant secretary of education for George H.W. Bush during the 1990s, Diane Ravitch admits that her perceptions of standardized testing and choice had drastically changed over the years, which she expounds on in her The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Although education reformers in New York have touted the standardized testing system for yielding good results, Ravitch (2010) criticizes their conclusions. Indeed, Ravitch notes that she had never seen an entity or institution “that gave grants to almost every major tank and advocacy group in the field of education, leaving no one willing to criticize its vast power and unchecked influence” (Ravitch, 2010, p.). Educational curricula that are based on standardized testing protocols do not provide students with a quality education. Moreover, they are not accurate litmus tests for the academic talents and capabilities of test taker. As such, the quality of education in the United States—which has placed an inordinate amount of currency in standardized tests for determining college acceptances—has recently declined and pales in comparison to the quality of education offered in other countries around the globe.
Ravitch recounts her perception of when the quality of education in America began to decline during the twentieth century. In 1955, Milton Friedman penned an article entitled “The Role of Government in Education,” in which he propagated the idea that the government to should give parents vouchers in order for them to be able to invest in an educational institution for their children of their choice. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency during the 1980s, education reforms cited Friedman’s article in their efforts to promote “content, character, and choice,” the three C’s advocated by then Secretary of Education William Bennett. The idea of school choice grew in popularity quickly at the grassroots and institutional level, as it garnered bipartisan support amongst public officials in the cities. Non-white democrats viewed these vouchers as an avenue through which minority families gained access to the same educational institutions that white middleclass families that were also homeowners in good school districts had (Ravitch, 2010).
Standardized testing, Ravitch (2010) argues, does have a “trans-ideological intellectual history” in the United States. Historically, conservatives staunchly opposed the presence of the federal government in education. However, during the 1990s, conservatives articulated a paradigm shift in their attitudes towards education, as they perceived that their schools were failing and thus turned to national education standards represented by standardized testing as a way to overcome this perceived failing. Liberals, however, wanted the federal government to provide ore funding for schools. If standardized tests were necessary to ascertain how to identify failing students, then they supported such measures. In 2001, George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act that appeared to be quite liberal at its core despite the bipartisan support for it. Ravitch posits that this notion of school choice never fully materialized because its proponents were preoccupied by the manner through which education should be given and delivered to students rather than assessing what education truly is. Because there were very few concerted efforts by education reformers to devise sound educational curricula, voucher schools in reality did not provide a better education to their students. Although some of the brightest students opted to attend charter schools, studies show that traditional public schools yielded commensurate results.
Ravitch thus decries the liberal, free-market model of choice and competition that undergirded the charter school movement. She asserts that “at the very time that the financial markets were collapsing, and as regulation of financial markets were collapsing, and as regulation of financial markets got a bad name many of the leading voices in American education assured the public that the way to educational rejuvenation was through deregulation” (Ravitch, 2010). Ravitch thus eschews the treatment of markets as a panacea, and argues that the data collected reveals that charter schools indeed do not produce better results than their corollary traditional public schools. Such conclusions underscore the necessity to benefit schools at the community level and improvement of neighborhood educational institutions. Standardized testing during the twenty-first century has often been compared to the aforementioned vouchers. Educational leaders were cognizant of the fact that the results of standardized tests were viewed as an objective litmus test to assess and evaluate the quality of education at schools and whether or not certain schools should be rewarded for the superior education students received in certain places.
As a result of the importance placed on excelling on standardized tests, many pedagogues in the public school system cater their teaching agenda towards preparing students for the standardized tests rather than focusing on devising a sound teaching agenda that students would actually learn in. Education advocates have time and again lamented that the standardized tests that students are forced to take are unreliable and mediocre in comparison to enrichment. Schools located in impoverished areas and struggle to stay afloat perform poorly on these tests. By solely focusing standardized testing rather than on untraditional didactic activities, many teachers are critical of the fact that not enough attention is paid to important subjects I the realm of science and social sciences such as history. Teaching students how to take a test fails to the students or cultivate the skills needed to actually learn, imbibe information, and aply it to real-world settings.
Ravitch further demonstrates that educational testing is not accurate or reliable in the same way that taking political polls do not necessarily reflect reality. Testing thus does not hold the educational institution responsible for subpar testing results. Rather, standardize testing merely forged an imagined community in which parents and students alike feel cynical about. As a result, the level of education for the average denizen living in the United States was quite low (Ravitch, 2010).Thus, standardized tests do not measure how well the pedagogues are or how much students actually know. Parents have stated that standardized tests merely quantify a student’s intelligence in a reductive manner. One number score does not actually provide any information about students. Indeed, a more holistic approach towards the education of the youth that enables them to perform in unique settings would enrich the lives of the young students within the context of modernity. Ravitch’s work must be read with a grain of salt because she had once articulated overtly conservative views about education and teachers’ unions. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that Ravitch eschewed idealistic notions about education and rather was open about criticized educational trends or ephemeral fads. As such, she concludes that standardized testing and school choice have failed to produce any meaningful results. The quality of education in the United States would continue to fall if profound changes are not changed in the near future. A far better and more improved education in the United States is possible, Ravitch opines. And she articulates her belief that a voluntary national curriculum, which would provide a corrective to endemic flaws that have been merely exacerbated rather than mitigated.
It is unequivocal that standardized testing exposes how inherently unequal the education system in the United States persists to be, as certain communities lack the resources and assistance necessary to make sure that the students do not lag behind in their literacy and numeracy development. As mentioned previously, standardized tests have emerged as the primary way that pedagogues and policymakers have measured the chasm in achievement between impoverished, minority students and the affluent white students. The gap continues to widen, which underscores the inefficacy of the standardized testing-oriented education students currently receive. Indeed, the standardized tests do not effectively measure academic skills and capacities that parents want their children to hone, including problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Multiple-choice examinations are often criticized, and parents have called for new state-sponsored tests that forces students to become creative thinkers and express themselves in alternative ways.
Standardized tests today are purportedly used to measure the efficacy of public school education. Low test scores translated into poor pedagogy, while high standardized test scores are indicators of a good teaching staff. In both cases, the quality of education is not being measured by an accurate yardstick because such tests are inherently erroneous. It is unfortunate that standardized test scores have evolved into the most significant factors in the evaluation of the quality of school. Pedagogues must realize that standardized tests are misleading in testing both aptitude and achievements of students.
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Popham, J. (2014). Modern Educational Measurement: Practical Guidelines for Educational Leaders, 3rd ed.,Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Popham, W. (1999, March).Why standardized tests don’t measure educational equality. Educational Leadership. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar99/vol56/num06/Why-Standardized-Tests-Don't-Measure-Educational-Quality.aspx
Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York: Basic Books.
Shapiro, T. (2004). The hidden cost of being African American: How wealth perpetuates inequality. New York: Oxford University Press
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