Standardized testing has been at the center of controversy for school districts, educators, students, parents and community stakeholders when looking at an effective and fair means for student evaluation. Horace Mann led the field in establishing a form of standardized testing during the 1800’s adopted in the United States and around the world. Standardized testing assesses student achievement, learning gains and allows data for progress monitoring within an educational time period . However, standardized testing and its purpose have morphed throughout the years from a form of assessment that would “level” the academic learning arena by indicating the levels of children’s learning and their ability to advance to a higher level, to what some would call a tool used to widen the achievement gap between the academically challenged and the socioeconomic status of students.
In 2001 No Child Left Behind was mandated by President Bush as a set of guidelines to be implemented by school districts across the nation. Presently schools and school districts heavily rely on assessment results for school grades and soon in the state of Florida, the year 2014 will be a year that educator salaries will be impacted by student test scores. Since No Child Left Behind and its assessment mandates, critics have spoken out about the flaws and the present testing system.
Moreover, another prominent educator James B. Conant, president of Harvard University developed an assessment tool for admission into the college. This tool was designed to reliably and objectively measure student achievement without looking at test taker background. This method he believed, would remove any bias when making the decision to admit students into the college. Subsequently, doors opened for the first time to Harvard and other prestigious universities for minority students to gain an education. Additionally, This test was eventually adapted to become what is now the Scholastic Aptitude Test or better known SAT (Edwards, par. 10). As standardized testing became more popular and commonly used, the government took notice and began developing ways to improve testing within public schools.
The question arises, how can students be evaluated by standardized testing when students learn through various modalities? For example, some students are visual learners, meaning they learn by seeing the process unfold or be modeled before them. Kinesthetic learners are hands on and use their bodies and movement to construct meaning from and show the ability to apply the concepts presented. A form of kinesthetic learning involves taking notes, observation, reading, viewing charts, creating graphs, writing down information and watching television to name a few types of learning. Another type of learner learns through auditory or listening to verbal directions; these learners find this method an easier form of comprehending text as they engage in dialogue and gain meaning from teacher student feedback. Though three were mentioned, there are many contracting learning styles which fuel the idea that it is illogical to test children through a standardized testing when each student retains material differently.
Moreover, when considering factors that influence student assessment Howard Gardner’s discovery of multiple intelligences are just one component related to learning assessment. Thus, as educators begin to look at other factors that impact learning, environmental influences are important. A typical formal setting would be the design of a classroom, areas wherein students may sit in bean bags, or work on the floor or on the couch, rather than sitting in a traditional desk and chair. Other environmental factors would be considering the level of noise or quiet, room temperature and lighting could also affect how a student performs on a test. Social economics, demographics, geographic location, and race positively or negatively influence test results. Through examples of learning styles and environmental factors they help demonstrate that standardized testing places students at a disadvantage for evaluation.
In the state of Florida, the annual standardized test that is given to students is called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which began in 1998. Students begin taking the FCAT in the third grade and continue through to high school. Students are tested on math, reading, science and writing. Professional writers that are employed by the Department of Education (DOE) create the FCAT. Once the test is written, the staff members of the DOE revise the different sections of the FCAT before it is submitted for testing. The format testing is as follows: 4th, 8th and 10th graders are evaluated by writing essays, students from 3rd through 10th grade are evaluated in math and reading through multiple choice and science is given to 5th, 8th and 10th graders. Gridded-Response is used for math and science. A gridded response is a network of horizontal and vertical lines superimposed over a map, building plan, excreta for locating points. For math it is used for grades 5th through 10th, and for science, it is 8th and 10th. Grades 4th, 8th, and 10th partake in the short-response reading. While short response and extended-response math and science are for grade 5th, 8th and 10th grade, extended-response reading is for grades 4th, 8th and 10th.
Math, science and reading are scored on a scale of 100-500. One hundred represents the lowest score and five hundred the highest. The grade level and subject level are scored on a 1 through 5 achievement level with 5 being the highest and 1 being the least. The written score is on a scale from 1 through 6. Florida students are required to take the FCAT because it is designed to ensure the achievement of the Sunshine State Standards, which are Florida’s statewide learning standards that focus on subjects such as math, science, social studies and the arts. The following percentages come from the 2011 and 2012 State Reading Demographic Report, specifically from 3rd grade students through high school that received a score of three or greater in the 2011 achievement level. Third grade students scored 57% out of 202,825 students. Fourth grade students scored 59% out of 198,878 students. Fifth grade students scored 58% out of 198,403 students. Sixth grade students scored 58% out of 197,863 students. Seventh grade students scored 58% out of 194,662 students. Eighth grade students scored 53% out of 196,176 students. Ninth grade students scored 51% out of 195,890 students, and tenth grade scored 52% out of 185,959 students.
These are the percentages from 3rd grade students through high school who received a score of three or greater in the 2012 achievement level. Third grade students scored 56% out of 203,466 students. Fourth grade students scored 62% out of 194,696 students. Fifth grade students scored 61% out of 199,990 students. Sixth grade students scored 57% out of 199,018 students. Eighth grade students scored 55% out of 194,631 students. Ninth grade students scored 52% out of 199,334 students, and tenth grade students scored 50% out of 1843,497 students. Theses percentages come from 2011 and 2012 . These are the percentages from 3rd grade students through high school that received a score of three or greater in the 2011 achievement level. Third grade students scored 56% out of 202,858 students. Fourth grade students scored 58% out of 198,969 students. Fifth grade students scored 56% out of 198,521 students. Sixth grade students scored 53% out of 197,670 students. Seventh grade students scored 56% out of 194,485 students. Eighth grade students scored 56% out of 195,864 students. These are the percentages from 3rd grade students through high school that received a score of three or greater in the 2012 achievement level. Third grade students scored 58% out of 203,369 students. Fourth grade students scored 60% out of 193,822 students. Fifth grade students scored 57% out of 200,043 students. Sixth grade students scored 53% out of 199,172 students. Seventh grade students scored 56% out of 198,328 students. Eighth grade students scored 56% out of 194,414 students.
By no means should Standardized testing be depleted entirely, the way in which it is used should be monitored closely. Standardized testing cannot capture the student’s full comprehension. Many students learn differently, therefore it is impossible to obtain a true assessment of a student’s comprehension level. In adjusting testing, grades of schools may need the same reform. For example, a school is given a grade of A, B, C, D, or F to identify their level of success.
In the State of Florida the senate passed the Florida Senate Bill 736, called the “Student Success Act” which ties teacher’s pay to how students perform on the FCAT and any other year-end testing.
Persons that were interviewed were three teachers – two high school teachers, and one elementary school teacher and elementary school principal. All interviewees were asked the exact same questions, as follows: Is standardized testing a good assessment for judging children’s learning capability? Do schools give too much attention to standardized testing or not enough attention? Would students do better if standardized testing was not timed? Should students be tested after each year of schooling before moving on to the next grade level? Should teachers be held responsible for students not performing well on standardized testing? For schools that are not scoring well on standardized tests should they receive more funding to help implement programs to assist teachers and students with the adequate resources needed for better scores? Does family income affect how a student performs in school? Does the level of the parent’s education have anything to do with how a child/student performs?
One of the professionals interviewed was Mr. Matthew Krella. Mr. Krella is an English Honors teacher at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida. When it comes to standardized testing, Krella says, “It is an okay assessment, but it does not fairly assess all students. It is an inorganic work environment, and the anxiety often deters most students from reaching their full potential.” Krella was asked if teachers should be held responsible for students not performing well on standardized testing? Krella said, “Yes, teachers are responsible for how well their students perform on standardized tests, but the “why” of the situation should not live and die with the teacher. Students should also be held accountable, and whether or not that student has made gains in some way, shape or form (over the course of the time with the teacher) should be measured as well.” Krella also added, “If a child’s parents value education then it makes sense that the parents would value parenting an educated child.” When asked “Do the levels of the parent’s education have anything to do with how a child/student performs?”
Krella also stated that students should be tested each grade level “…Providing there is a state/district wide curriculum in place with specific objectives. It makes sense that students would be tested to assure real learning is taking place. It makes the most sense to test the students by semester and not cumulatively at the end of the year. Skills/concepts can be measured over the course of 1 year, but not necessarily content.”
In Manatee County the scores for the FCAT were below state average. Mr. Bob Gagnon, the director assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said “These scores did not surprise anybody.” On the other hand students in Sarasota County have scored better than expected by the state. The results on the scoring were for fourth through eight grade in reading and mathematics and for science grades five and eighth.
The next interviewee was Mrs. Debora Shannon who is an AICE General Writing/English teacher at Palmetto High School in Palmetto, Florida. Shannon says, “A standardized test does not measure a student’s capability but simply whether or not he or she has adequately learned the curriculum presented on the test.” Students learn differently, and they process information differently so by knowing this, some teachers try to implement the different learning styles that I mentioned earlier. Shannon says, “Students are placed in a box, regarding standardized testing. There is no room for creativity, just choosing the best answer from the choices given. The tests do not take into account that students have different learning styles.” Another question Shannon was asked was if family income affects a student’s performance in school. Shannon answered “Sometimes… The will of students and family drives the performance of the student more so than its income. We have had a homeless student and students who have had everything handed to them graduate, and the homeless student graduated class president and valedictorian. The students that have had a silver spoon in their mouth did not care whether they made an A or F, even though they may have had the same level of intelligence,” Shannon stated. When asked do the levels of the parent’s education have anything to do with how a child/student performs? Shannon answered, “Sometimes.
I believe that the interest in the child’s education has more to do with the level of interest over their level of education.” She gave a very good example on this question regarding parent’s value of standards. Shannon has had parents who were more supportive of their child’s extracurricular activity (sports) rather than their child’s educational level. On the other hand, Shannon has had parents who have a poor education who are very involved with their children’s education and want their child to succeed. “They want their child to have better than they had,” says Shannon. In the audio clip below, Shannon talks about everyday learning tools that need to be used in order to prepare students for the FCAT.
There are a lot of factors that go into taking the FCAT. Shannon says that our teachers need to be well trained to make sure that they are teaching the proper benchmarks within the regular curriculum. If teachers are teaching such curriculum like main idea, phonics, paraphrasing and context clues everyday then our children will be prepared for the FCAT. Once the student knows the four context clues which are: examples, synonym, antonym and general statement the students will know how to answer the questions effectively on the FCAT.
In the state of Florida a law was passed that students at institutions in the 100 lowest performing elementary schools have to stay an extra hour after school. Teachers at Rogers Garden Elementary have to teach students how to improve on their reading during a regular reading time and during the extended day time period.
The third interviewee is Miss Deanna Ash who is an elementary school teacher in Lakeland, Florida. One of the questions that Miss Ash was asked was do schools pay too much attention to standardized testing or not enough attention. Ash’s response was “Yes.” She then went on to say that from the first day of school, the students are taught about the test they are going to take, how they need to pass, how it affects schools etc. Activities are built in order for students to learn how to pass the test. Ash was asked, “Should teachers be held responsible for students not performing well on standardized testing?” Her answer was “Yes” and “No”. Ash believes that teachers can play a part in how well a student does on a standardized test, knowing that other factors can have an impact as well. She then goes on to say, a teacher is to teach the student how to think, analyze and evaluate information. It is up to the student to then use what they have learned and apply it while taking the test. The teacher can teach the students test-taking strategies, ways to breathe, pray and relax before the test and most importantly, prepare the student for taking the test without feeling scared. “The teachers have about two-fifths of a role in the students passing, and the students have about two-fifths of a role in passing the test. Other factors play into the remaining one-fifth of the student passing the test (attendance, disability, parent’s help and support, etc.),” Ash stated. Ash was asked, “Does family income affect how a student performs in school?” She stated, “No. Just because a child is from an economically advanced family does not mean they will be more successful.” Ash also goes on to say that research has shown that more affluent students tend to achieve more in school because parents started talking, reading, and “training” them to be successful at an early age. Again, this is for most affluent children, but other factors such as disability, academic ability, learning style, and teacher influence can also impact the child’s performance in school.
The fourth and final interviewee is Mr. Brian Flynn who is the principal for Rowlett Magnet Elementary School, which is located in Bradenton, Florida. Mr. Flynn has been within the educational system for over 37 years. He has been the principal for Rowlett Magnet Elementary School for 13 years, he was the principal at Wakeland Elementary School for seven years and for over 25 years he has worked in administration. Flynn states that “assessments need to done but the way it’s been utilized by our state has not always been a positive thing”. Teachers are being judged on how students perform on the FCAT test. Flynn disagrees on how teachers are being deducted on their pay due to poor test scores. The state assumes that if a school has low-test scores, it means that teachers are not implementing the material as they should. According to Flynn, the pattern that he has seen is that the affluent schools will do better than those who are not as affluent.