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In the face of the latest iteration of the testing backlash, we should remember why standardized tests are essential. The key reasons, as I see them, are objectivity, comparability, and accountability. At their core, standardized exams are designed to be objective measures. They assess students based on a similar set of questions, are given under nearly identical testing conditions, and are graded by a machine or blind reviewer. They are intended to provide an accurate, unfiltered measure of what a student knows. But the reality is that teacher grading practices can be wildly uneven across schools—and even within them.
For instance, one math teacher might be an extraordinarily lenient grader, while another might be brutally hard: Getting an A means something very different. Teacher grading can be subjective in other ways, including favoritism towards certain students, and it can find its basis in non-achievement factors like classroom behavior, participation, or attendance. But when students take a standardized exam, a much clearer view of academic mastery emerges. Standardized assessments of achievement can be used for comparison and accountability purposes, both of which are discussed in turn. The very objectivity of standardized exams yields comparability of student achievement, a desirable feature for parents and practitioners alike.
Most parents, for example, would like to know whether their child is meeting state benchmarks, or how she compares to statewide peers. Statewide standardized exams give parents this important information. Meanwhile, school-shopping parents have every right to inspect and compare the standardized test results from a range of schools, including charters, district schools, and STEM schools, before selecting a school for their child. For instance, the principal of East Elementary could compare the achievement of her students against those attending West Elementary, the district average, the county average, and the statewide average.
How do her students stack up? Only a statewide standardized test could tell. Interestingly, proposals have been floated to allow schools to select their own assessment—a pick-your-own-assessment policy. This is a flawed idea and should be rejected. It would undermine the comparability principle of statewide testing. Several main currents in the history of American educational testing are established. Formal written tests begins to replace oral examinations administered by teachers and schools at roughly the same time as schools change their mission from servicing the elite to educating the masses. Pre-Civil War. Schools also use externally mandated written examinations to assess student progress in specific curricular areas and to aid in a variety of administrative and policy decisions.
The development and administration of a range of new testing instruments, from measuring mental ability, to attempting to assess how well students were prepared for college, brought to the forefront several critical issues related to testing and tbe broader goals of American education. Harvard President Charles William Eliot proposes a cooperative system of common entrance examinations that would be acceptable to colleges and professional schools throughout the country, in lieu of the separate examinations given by each school.
The College Entrance Examination Board is established, and in , the first examinations are administered around the country in nine subjects. French psychologist Alfred Binet begins developing a standardized test of intelligence, work that would eventually be incorporated into a version of the modern IQ test, dubbed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. World War I. Standardized testing is standard practice: aptitude quizzes called Army Mental Tests are conducted to assign US servicemen jobs during the war effort.
Stanford Professor Lewis Terman marks the beginning of large-scale individual intelligence testing in characteristics of the Binet-Simon tradition. The National Education Association endorses the kind of standardized testing that Rice had been urging for two decades. Between and Edward Thorndike and his students at Columbia University developed standardized achievement tests in arithmetic, handwriting, spelling, drawing, reading, and language ability. The College Board begins to develop comprehensive examinations in six subjects. These examinations include performance types of assessment such as essay questions, sight translation of foreign languages, and written compositions.
Lewis Terman and a group of colleagues are recruited by the American Psychological Association to help the Army develop group intelligence tests and a group intelligence scale. Army testing during World War I ignites the most rapid expansion of the school testing movement. Oakland, California, was the site of one of the first attempts at large-scale intelligence testing of students.
By , there are well over standardized tests, developed by different researchers to measure achievement in the principal elementary and secondary school subjects. Fall of Critics of standardized testing often point to various forms of performance-based assessments as preferable alternatives. Known by various names proficiency-based, competency-based , they require students to produce work that demonstrates high-level thinking and real-world applications. Examples include an experiment illustrating understanding of a scientific concept, group work that addresses complex problems and requires discussion and presentation, or essays that include analysis of a topic.
Portfolio-based assessments emphasize the process of learning over letter grades and normative performance. Portfolios can be made up of physical documents or digital collections. They can include written assignments, completed tests, honors and awards, art and graphic work, lab reports, or other documents that demonstrate either progress or achievement. Portfolios can provide students with an opportunity to choose work they wish to reflect on and present. Determining which systems of evaluation work best in specific circumstances and is an ongoing challenge for education administrators. Addressing the most critical challenges facing educators, including fair and accurate assessment of academic achievement, requires administrators with exceptional leadership and policy expertise.
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