Since the inception of The Elementary and Secondary School Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, each state is required to test students on academic content standards regularly to assess proficiency. The results of these yearly achievement tests measure the adequate yearly progress for each school system in every state.
Advantages to Achievement Testing
One of the most important advantages to achievement testing is the feedback and evaluation of academic progress. The data gathered from assessment results enables governing bodies to determine areas of proficiency and gaps in student learning. Achievement tests are standardized against societal norms, meaning that, by design, they should adequately assess student knowledge no matter one's cultural or economic background. According to a paper presented by Richard Phelps to the World Association for Educational Research, standardized achievement tests provide an accurate assessment of student ability without the subjectivity of teachers or administrators.
Increase in Academic Pressures
The atmosphere of education in the United States has changed since No Child Left Behind passed, and yearly student achievement is required. Administrators, teachers and students often feel pressure to excel, not only for personal achievement, but for the success of their school system. In her article on high-stakes testing, Dr. Sharon Nichols from the University of Texas at San Antonio says the expectation to succeed may compromise instructional integrity and place greater importance on results, rather than students' needs. However, Nichols also reports that a certain level of accountability pressure correlates positively with student performance and the level of achievement.
Loss of Academic Freedom
Before the mandate to assess student achievement, teachers could design their courses without many stipulations. Educators recognize that creating standards outlining course content ensures each student is exposed adequately to course material. However, these same standards also leave little time for teachers to dig deeper into richer content areas. William Firestone, Roberta Schorr and Lora Monfils, in their book "The Ambiguity of Teaching to the Test," point out that within the school year teachers need time to initially teach the content standards, review the content and teach test-taking skills before students are scheduled to take the achievement tests.
Biased Test Results
Standardized tests are supposed to be designed to remove socioeconomic bias from the method of assessment. Many educators have concerns that bias still exists, however, and impacts the ability of some students to perform adequately on achievement tests. Fairtest.org reports that the normal procedure for testing and selecting questions for achievement tests favors students who have access to stronger academic education. Minority, lower income, special needs and English as a second language students, on average, perform less well on achievement assessments. According to Fairtest.org, test design and the standardization process exacerbates the failure to recognize the differences in students' abilities and backgrounds.
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- The Ambiguity of Teaching to the Test; William A. Firestone, Roberta Y. Schorr and Lora F. Monfils
- Educational Policy Analysis Archives: High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Does Accountability Pressure Increase Student Learning?
- Fair Test: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing: Racial Bias Built into Tests
- The United States Department of Education: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act
- Nonpartisan Education Review: The Role and Importance of Standardized Testing in the World of Teaching and Training
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