2009-05-22 / Columnists

Ken's Math Korner

Are Standardized Tests Fair?
Commentary By Ken Rochelle, MBA

Spring is here and the weather is getting warmer. Here in the Rockaways, the beach is calling our name. However, for our local students it is now evaluation time to see how much they have learned in school this year. Welcome to standardized test season!

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that requires states to give math and reading tests to students in grades three through eight every year, and holds accountable those schools that fail to make improvements. Some states have already made decisions about funding for individual schools and educators' salaries, and even accreditation of schools based on these standardized tests' scores. Half of all states either have in place, or are in the process of implementing the requirement that highschool seniors pass a test in order to graduate.

But, what are standardized tests? Usually created by commercial test publishers, standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. Because large numbers of students throughout the country take the same test, they give educators a common yardstick or "standard'' of measure. Educators then use these standardized tests to tell how well school programs are succeeding, or to give themselves a picture of the skills and abilities of today's students.

Is it fair to students when major decisions — affecting not only their education but in some cases, their future — are based on the results of a single test?

According to the National Center for Research and Evaluation, a student who takes a standardized test a second time may have only a 30- 50 percent chance of scoring within five points of his initial score. In fact, a score change as little as 10 points may be completely attributable to the test itself. Other factors that may influence a test score include whether the child receives clear directions, follows those directions carefully, takes the test seriously, and is comfortable taking tests.

Furthermore, it may not be the tests themselves that are the problem. Perhaps it is the way in which the results are used. All too many times, the results are used to label students or place them in programs associated with their abilities. This can have negative consequences, such as a student placed in an inappropriate class level.

Other problems with the use of standardized tests include causing students to be more concerned with studying only to pass a test, rather than studying to improve themselves.

Additionally, anxiety becomes a part of their education experience.

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