Albert Einstein once stated, Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts. From Kindergarten throughout the twelfth grade, high-stakes testing is used to measure the knowledge a person has acquired. Today, there are advantages and disadvantages to taking high-stakes tests. Some of the advantages of passing these tests include earning a high school diploma, being promoted to the next grade level, obtaining a license for a profession, and receiving educational scholarships. There are also many disadvantages one must face when receiving a failing grade on a high-stakes test.
Some of these disadvantages can include students being forced to repeat a grade or take remedial classes, individuals may have a hard time finding employment, and in some instances there are people who are not allowed to obtain a driver’s license. The research shows high-stakes testing has many negative attributes. The negative impact of high-stakes testing on an individual can be life changing (Sutton & Seifert, 2009, p.
14). Throughout this paper the author will discuss how high-stakes testing does not accurately represent one’s intelligence, increases the dropout rate, and also shows the potential cause for detrimental psychological affects.
Students have their first real experience with high-stakes testing beginning in Kindergarten continuing throughout high school. One of the most common forms of high-stakes testing is known as standardized testing. A standardized test is designed to measure a large group of test takers nationwide. These tests are deemed to be high-stakes when they are used to assess students and to hold educators responsible for the results (Goff, 2006). The purpose of standardized testing is to acquire a student’s academic performance ranking compared to a normed sample of students (Fisher & Frey, 2012).
High-stakes testing has decreased the amount of choices present in the classroom, the motivation of students to learn, and instruction has been found to be teacher-centered instead of student-engaged (French, 2003). Standardized tests were primarily used to measure student achievement levels. Teachers used the test scores to provide parents with a report that followed the state and district guidelines (Moon, Callahan, & Tomlinson, 2003). Research has indicated that teachers showed little attention to these tests. Therefore, these tests had little to no impact on the curriculum that was being taught. However, testing has become an essential focus of practice, procedure, educational standards, higher achieving students, and the continued pursuit for improving schools (French, 2003).
As high-stakes testing became more popular, standardized tests became a tool to measure the quality of the educational system. These tests provide a guideline and foundation for curriculum reform and instructional practices. Under the current policy of “No Child Left Behind”, standards and assessments remain the strongest force on policy, procedure, and practice. Regardless of the important role of high-stakes testing, there have been numerous effects on schools, teachers, administrators, and students.
Beginning in elementary schools, students across the United States are required to take high-stakes tests. In many situations there are students being held back or students that are required to take remedial classes because they are making lower grades on the standardized tests. There are many instances in which students are not skilled at test taking and are therefore categorized as a lower achieving student due to their scores. There are many factors that contribute to students that score poorly on a test. Some are students that suffer from a lack of sleep, lack of study materials, stress, poor diet, and other aggravating reasons. While some students perform well on high-stakes tests, others students may not. Students that are performing poorly have and will continue to be penalized.
Some students try to force themselves to remember too much information in a short amount of time because they are being pressured to perform well on standardized tests. Therefore, their anxiety has a negative impact on their ability to perform and often results in failing outcomes. Research has proven that one’s memory capacity is reduced from the amount of stress brought on by a high-pressure test that is deciding his or her future standing. Sub-standard or failing test scores may also cause an individual to feel insecure or have lower-self esteem about their intelligence and may eventually be the cause of the student dropping out of school (Bachelor, 2007).
Other expressed concerns include the attitudes and awareness of parents with regards to the importance of tests, the responsibility shared by teachers and parents for student performance on these tests, the testing atmosphere, and the anxiety that may accompany these tests (Osbourn, Stegman, Suitt, & Ritter, 2004). Parents, teachers, and administrators can have an impact or influence on a student’s overall performance. Research indicates that parental involvement can be a considerable factor in foreseeing academic success. It is significantly important for parents to find a method that works and a way to motivate their children in order to maximize their test scores. It is evident that many students in the United States have lost the ability to think for themselves and to think creatively. Teachers often feel challenged due to the mixed signals, messages, and contradictory demands they receive on a daily basis from principles, policy makers, and administrators (Osbourn et al., 2004).
Research details that many teachers express frustration because they feel they are pressured and limited by time. They feel they are unable to explore subjects in the depth and because of this they feel they are unable to maximize student learning. Many teachers indicate that the strict guidelines of high-stakes testing forces them to skip over material and move on whether students understand or not (Moon, Brighton, Jarvis, & Hall, 2007). A teacher’s lack of ability to experiment has an effect on their eagerness and their ability to explore other instructional strategies. Due to the nature of high-stakes state testing programs schools may emphasize skill development to the disadvantage of their curriculum and integration across disciplines, integration of concepts, and/or increasing higher order thinking skills (Moon et al., 2007).
Many teachers feel that standardized testing reduces their ability to develop innovative strategies within their own classrooms in order to allocate additional attention to students who require more assistance in the learning process than others. For instance, teachers would have the opportunity to focus the majority of their time with the students that are having trouble grasping certain subject material in order for them to retain the knowledge. In order to be an effective teacher today, teachers must be receptive to the increasing need to prepare students for standardized tests but also keep in mind that some students still need individualized attention (Brimijoin, 2005).
Most educators chose their profession because of their enthusiasm to teach and to encourage students to become independent thinkers. Unfortunately, with nationwide policies that are in place, teachers are required to only teach the curriculum in order to prepare students for the high-stakes tests. At times it may be acceptable to set high standards on the high-stakes tests for high school students, but teaching elementary students just plain facts in order for them to score high on a high-stakes test is damaging to our nation’s future. Elementary schools set the foundation and framework for children’s future education. Elementary teachers should begin using methods such as critical thinking and inquiry-based learning in order to foster creativity in their students at a young age.
Inquiry-based instruction may be the answer to assisting students in the development of discovering knowledge on their own instead of merely being asked to memorize the testing information. Inquiry-based learning is a form of teaching that involves the students to lead their discovery through the process of forming questions and coming up with solutions to their questions on their own. The teacher in an inquiry-based instruction setting would only be a guide on the side. Through inquiry-based learning students become vested and inspired in their learning and are more motivated to get results. Inquiry-based learning also promotes creativity by increasing motivation, amazement, and inquisitiveness. Due to this, it is imperative to find alternative methods to measure the standards in a classroom setting rather than imposing high-stakes tests. Inquiry-based learning may be the key to improving and fostering creativity, while still meeting the demands of standardized testing (Longo, 2010).
A study has been conducted and the results indicate that most of the negative influences drastically affect lower-income students and students of color (French, 2003). Research indicates that standardized tests have and will continue to hinder the capability of Latin American and African American students to earn a high school diploma (Orfield and Wald, 2000). Under certain circumstances using the same tests for all students is unreasonable and unfair. The outcome is sure to remain predictable. Since all students do not receive an equivalent education, holding equal expectations for all students places the low-income students and those with disabilities at a greater disadvantage. There is data that confirms that African Americans, Latin Americans, low-income students, and students with disabilities are excessively failing high stakes standardized tests. Research has also indicated that students from wealthy counties are passing the tests and more than half of them are exceeding the standards (Sadker & Zittleman, 2006).
Students from low income homes and minority groups are prone to be held back a grade, placed on a lower track educational plan, put in special education classes or a remedial education program when it is not necessary. These students are being given a watered-down curriculum, which only ensures that they will continue to fall further behind the rest of their classmates. On the other hand, Caucasian students from middle and upper income homes are more likely to be placed in gifted programs or college preparatory classes in which they are challenged to read, discover, examine, explore, think, imagine, and progress more rapidly (Strauss, 2010).
Another study was recently conducted that indicated the United States is one of the only economically advanced nations to greatly rely on multiple-choice question tests. Most nations utilize performance-based tests in which students are assessed on their own quality work, such as, projects, reports, essays, and hands-on activities. The nations that do not rely or focus on teaching students by using multiple-choice tests, have higher scores than the United States on the same kinds of tests (Strauss, 2010). A fair solution would be for researchers and educators to implement another type of assessment in order to address the inequalities that are based on one’s income, the color of one’s skin, and the community in which one lives. Standardized testing should be an unbiased way for educators to assess, evaluate, and measure students’ abilities and achievements in school. The American Educational Research Association (AERA) agrees that any decisions made that will have an overall affect on an individual student’s chance in life or on his or her opportunity at an education should not be solely made on the foundation of a test score alone. Researchers argue that there should be other applicable information that is considered in order to improve the overall validity of such decisions. In order to be completely fair students should be given multiple opportunities to pass these high-stakes tests that are being used to determine their future. When a student’s standardized score is not indicative of their abilities there should be other viable mechanisms in place to bridge this gap (AERA, 2000).
Evidence has indicated that standardized testing has affected the education system in the United States negatively. The main flaw is that policymakers made standardized testing the center of our educational system, which resulted in vast changes in curriculums where educators were forced to teach students how to test rather than teaching materials that foster creativity and enhance knowledge. Howard Gardner, famous for his work on multiple intelligences, stated he was unconcerned that American children were ranked last among the major industrial nations in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. He reported that tests measure exposure to facts and skills not whether or not kids can think (Murray 1998).