Examining The Effectiveness Of Standard Tests
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Any student who has taken a standardized test probably recognizes that people have bad testing days if they are tired, sick, or simply not fully engaged in the material with which they are being tested on for hours on end. There is no doubt that testing scores occasionally do not accurately reflect the extent of knowledge that a student possesses, but does that mean standardized tests should be eliminated entirely?
This is a debate that Massachusetts is currently engaged in, regarding the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam that the state administers to students in grades three through eight and grade 10.
“In terms of assessing a student, as opposed to the school or the teacher, we’re getting into an era where this test is being used for all of these things, and that’s part of the problem,” said State Representative Carl Sciortino. “I have concerns about using a single standardized test as a metric for measuring students, schools, and teachers, when there’s serious concerns about whether the test is effective in measuring any of those, let alone all three.”
It seems as if the solution to this problem would not be to completely eradicate standardized tests—although I’m sure some students would rally behind this option—but rather to supplement standardized tests with other methods of evaluation.
This “multiple assessment” approach to education is perhaps best exemplified in the college application process, where colleges look not only at SAT/ACT scores but also at essays, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.
For several years, pioneers in education reform have tirelessly tried to promote the “MCAS Reform Bill.” This bill is designed to ensure that multiple formats are used to measure student performance and understanding while also ensuring that students who do not meet the minimum standardized test scores have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities with other measures of performance. If passed, the bill would provide for a High School Graduation Requirements Committee that would be in charge of developing a specific multiple assessment system to determine student competence.
This bill would be advantageous for students because it changes the way the test evaluates a student—the MCAS exam would not be the only requirement for graduation. Yet, it does not eliminate the exam, which has been providing administrations, faculty, parents, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with statistics on how students are performing, along with their rates of improvement, since 1998.
Despite these potential benefits, the bill has been filed multiple times since it was first introduced in 2007, and it could still be some time until it comes into effect because it is not currently supported by the majority of legislation.
When Massachusetts was first looking to create the MCAS, the exam was not to be the sole measure of assessment. According to Sciortino, however, “what happened was instead of creating a multiple assessment system … the Republican-controlled Board of Education through the ’90s created a standardized test and claimed that the appeals process was an alternative approach to students who might have failed a standardized test approach.”
This “appeals process” was established by the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education to provide high school students who did not pass the MCAS with an opportunity to earn their diploma by demonstrating that they met the state’s standards to graduate through their coursework.
Despite this past effort to implement an appeals process, few students took advantage of it, simply due to the fact that it was incredibly resource-intensive for any school to prove that a student is proficient and should graduate without taking the MCAS exam.
The MCAS Reform Bill campaigns for the education of the whole child by making this appeals process more accessible for students and thus mitigating the unintended consequences of testing, such as narrowing of the curriculum, increasing numbers of dropouts, and high school graduates who are still not prepared for higher education.