I received this interesting comment from someone named Peter in reference to a post I made about challenging high-stakes testing back in March 2006.Â I think the comment is worth repeating here. It gives us more to think about on this issue. Peter had no link and I have not seen this research before. Does anyone know where it might be located?
The Issue of High Stakes Testing
High stakes testing has officially become a virus to the American educational community. While standardized testing was once simply an indicator of individualsâ€™ and schoolsâ€™ overall levels of performance, it has now become a life or death issue for both parties, preventing individuals from progressing educationally and, in some cases, causing funding for lagging schools to be discontinued completely. The effects of such tests are easily visible inside of the classroom, as the immense consequences that come with these tests both prevent teachers from effectively educating their students and have overwhelmingly negative psychological effects on the children being subjected to them. The effects of these tests are also beginning to become more visible outside of the classroom, in the â€œreal worldâ€, as they clearly discourage social mobility by preventing those in the lower ranks of society from bettering their socioeconomic status.
The massive amount of emphasis that teachers are forced to place on material covered by high stakes tests leaves them with little time to instruct their students in many essential aspects of education that do not happen to appear on the tests. In High Stakes: Poverty, Testng, and Failure In American Schools, a depiction of a year spent teaching in a poor Louisiana school (one which is legally required to administer high stakes tests), David and Bonnie Johnson illustrate the manner in which they are required to â€œteach to the testâ€ by directly following the instructions that they, as well as the rest of the elementary school staff, received at the beginning of the school year: â€œYou must teach to mastery all the objectives that will be tested on the LEAP and Iowa tests [the high stakes tests administered in this school district]. Skip the others until after the tests next March. We have no time to teach fluffâ€ (Johnson & Johnson 30). The Johnsons then go on to illustrate the negative effects that â€œteaching to the testâ€ has on the education of their pupils. For example, due to the fact that teachers are forced to focus on syllabication rather than reading comprehension, the Johnsonâ€™s pupils are oftentimes able to pronounce words, but not understand them: â€œThey can pronounce the word â€˜harpâ€™, but they have no idea what the word meansâ€ (Johnson & Johnson 72). The Johnsons sum up their frustration with their inability to truly educate their pupils by stating: â€œIt has become clear even to the most optimistic that school is no longer for education. Schools are now test prep centers, and woe be to those who donâ€™t do enough preppingâ€ (Johnson &Johnson 31).
It has become increasingly clear that high-stakes testing plays a large role in preventing students from the lower classes from using education as a way to improve their socioeconomic situations. To begin with, the expectations that these tests have of students is inherently slanted against students of the lower classes:
Children who have been in programs like those offered by the â€œBaby Iviesâ€ since the age of two have, by now, received the benefits of six or seven years of education, nearly twice as many as the children who have been denied these opportunities; yet all are required to take, and will be measured by, the same examinationsâ€ (Kozol 46).
In other words, middle and upper class children are able to approach these examinations with a great deal of knowledge that lower class children, held to the same standards, do not possess. Lower class children are therefore put at a great disadvantage, and are therefore much more likely to fail the test. While this clearly prevents many of them from progressing to the next grade, failing the test also carries a number of other likely consequences. For example, in Silenced Voices and Extraordinary Conversations, an examination of lower-class students, Michelle Fine and Lois Weis mention that:
The proliferation of increased high-stakes testing means that more students will leave high school without a diploma, at just the moment when the presence of a high school diploma is a critical economic litmus test separating the haves from the have nots. While the origins of the â€˜standards movementâ€™ may have been systematic accountability, the consequencesâ€¦ for poor and working-class students are likely to be devastating (Fine & Weis 9).
While it may seem trivial that a child cannot progress a grade while in elementary school, the fact that these tests prevent students that desperately need a degree, oftentimes even deserve one (the authors mention a boy that has a 95 average and a very high ranking in his class who is still at risk of graduating without a diploma due to his failure of high-stakes tests), is a harsh reminder of the terrible amount of power that these standardized tests have over the lives of lower-class American students.
Aside from affecting drastically affecting their futures, high-stakes testing also takes a large psychological toll on American students. For example, Daniel and Bonnie Johnson describe the psychological torment that they witnessed in their third and fourth grade classrooms on the day that the tests were administered: â€œAs the children begin the first timed test, Kelvin vomits in his hands and runs to the bathroomâ€¦Gerard takes one look at the first section and begins to cryâ€ (Johnson & Johnson 137). Clearly such behavior is a result of the anxiety that the students feel upon facing such a deterministic challenge. Later on in the book, they quote a â€œveteran fourth grade teacherâ€ as saying: â€œHigh-Stakes testing is putting an unprecedented form of pressure on districts, teachers, and students. When we have to hire extra janitorial staff on high-stakes testing days to clean up the vomit, we know that things are getting ridiculousâ€ (Johnson & Johnson 224). While this kind of anxiety may be condoned in college-bound seniors facing the SAT for the first time, the fact that third and fourth graders are forced to face this kind of mental trauma is nothing short of absurd.
High-stakes tests are much more than a waste of a few hours that could be put to better use in the classroom; they are a socially oppressive, mentally traumatic force that is increasingly being unleashed upon American students. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our society is currently unaware of the issue, and it is therefore being allowed to worsen by the day. I ask anyone reading this to please make some sort of effort, be it through a letter, a donation, etc. to put an end to what is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent social injustices in modern American society.Â