High Stakes Testing: Education and Technology Essay

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In the early 1960s, policymakers began to gather information about the condition of American education and the effectiveness of mandated programs by examining standardized results. State school boards and legislatures began to use test results as mechanisms of power. They began to add minister rewards and sanctions based on students performance on mandated tests, making them high stakes tests. Rewards and sanctions were seen as a way to motivate students, teachers, and schools. Test results in effect became a triggering device to make good and bad things happen automatically to individuals and schools.

As a result, an educational environment was created where test scores were the sole barometer of school district success (Corbett & Wilson, 1991 Wraga et. al. , 2000 p. 305). Policy makers also began to use standardized test data as indicators of the effectiveness of compensatory programs and curriculum development efforts tried during the 1950s and 1960s (Maduus. 1988 cited in Wraga et. al. , 2000 p. 304). In theory, educational tests are an unobtrusive method of estimating students knowledge. Depending on the circumstances related to the test and test results, this can be true.

In some situations, students take standardized exams and the scores are used appropriately; however, many educators, thinking of their own experiences in classrooms as students or as teachers, assert that tests influence students and teachers when they perceive that important consequences are connected results (U. S. Congress. OTA. 1992 cited in Wraga et. al. , 2000 p. 305). Due to the initiations of these events, the utilization and expansion of high stakes testing occurred in the field of education and technology. Discussion

An examination or test is said to have high stakes attached to it when sanctions or rewards are linked directly to performance. Attaching high stakes to performance on tests, whether public examinations or national assessments, has important consequences. Students, teachers, and curriculum are affected in many ways: curriculum and teaching revolve around the examinations, students and teachers put considerable effort into test preparation, and potential low scorers may be prevented from taking the examination to boost the schools overall performance (Madaus and Greaney 1985 cited in Greany et al. , 1996 p.

96). High-stakes tests may also affect the validity of measurement through the test corruption and test score pollution that seem to accompany them (Greaney and Kellaghan 1996 cited in Greany et al. , 1996 p. 96). High-stakes testing is now entrenched in U. S. public school due to its adverse impact on many minority students such as Chicano, Mexicans (i. e. , disproportionate rates of high school diploma denial and grade retention). Given the political nature of the standard-based school reform movement, legal claims of adverse impact brought forth by minority plaintiff appear difficult to win in the courts (e.

g. , as seen in the defeat of plaintiff in the GI Forum case (see Valencia and Bernal, 2000). In light of this political basis of high-stakes resting, reform of such resting will likely only be attainable through the source from which high stakes emanated”the legislative process itself. Such activities need to be pursued with vigor. Critics of high stakes testing need to rally around assessment principles that promote (a) the use of multiple indicators to assess a students progress, and (b) the use of test scores for diagnosis of students strengths and weaknesses.

Furthermore, critics of high-stakes testing need to make the case that the standards-based school reform movement is inherently misdirected because it treats the symptoms (i. e. , low academic achievement) rather than the cause (i. e. , inferior schools; unequal educational opportunity) of racial/ethnic differences in academic achievement (Valencia, 2002 p. 294) Case studies have also been used to examine the effects of high- stakes testing on practice. In a study published in 1991, Smith et al (cited in Hamilton et. al, 2002 p.

84) conducted detailed observations of teachers in two Arizona elementary schools whose students took tests that had significant consequences. During the fall 1987 semester, the authors conducted daylong observations in 29 classrooms. Lessons were also audio- taped. The researchers also observed and recorded staff meetings. In January 1988, they selected a subset of 20 teachers for detailed open- ended interviews covering the validity of the tests, the effects of the tests on teachers, test preparation methods, and the effects of the tests on pupils.

Subsequently, six teachers were selected for more extensive observations occurring one, two or three days a week during the spring of that year. In total, the six classes were observed for 81 days. The purpose of the observations was to understand ordinary instruction; therefore, the observers focused on what was taught, methods, allocation of time, language and interaction among teachers and pupils, teaching materials, and classroom interruptions.

The researchers used a variety of techniques to review and summarize the data and compare the situation in these classrooms to the literature on testing and its effects (Hamilton et. al, 2002 p. 84). Conclusion One might think of a number of ways to modify public examinations to provide information for a national assessment. A public examination used for certification might be expanded to provide adequate curriculum coverage”although this might have adverse effects on the examination system by, for example, making examinations too long.

The emphasis on norm-referencing in public examinations would remain a problem, but it too could possibly be dealt with. As far as the population of interest is concerned, information on students who are too young to take public examinations could be obtained by introducing a public examination in the primary years. This would not be cost-effective, however, and the introduction of public examinations at an early stage in the educational process may not be beneficial to students education.

These include the use of public examinations primarily for selection; the difficulty of using them for monitoring standards; and their use to drive instruction in a high-stakes context.


Greany, V. (1996). Monitoring the Learning Outcomes of Education Systems. World Bank Publications. Hamilton etal, L. S. (2002). Making Sense of Test-Based Accountability in Education. Rand Corporation. Valencia, R. R. (2002). Chicano School Failure and Success: Past, Present, and Future. Routledge. Wraga etal, W. G. (2000). Research Review for School Leaders. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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