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Don't listen to the tests


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 21, 1999

When 3,000 New York students were sent to summer school because they performed poorly on a statewide standardized test, they must have been mildly irritated.

Not as irritated, however, as they must have been when they found out last week that the test was scored incorrectly, and they could have spent the summer skiing instead of sitting in class.

While this instance may be a fluke, it does reflect the general silliness of standardized testing. Sadly, testing has become a phenomenon throughout the nation as policymakers in nineteen states, including Arizona, have made passing standardized tests a high school graduation requirement.

Even more frightening is that the culprit of the New York mishap is the CTBMcGraw-Hill company, the very same company that designed Arizona's beloved AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) Standardized Test. Arizona high school students in the class of 2002 will be required to pass the AIMS test in order to graduate.

But the idea that they can be a fair requirement for high school graduation is ludicrous.

What policymakers are overlooking is that standardized tests are useful for measuring student performance at a very generic level. They are useful in general classroom assessment, nothing more.

They do not measure how students work with their peers or think creatively. They do not measure students' work ethic or ability to learn.

More significantly, they do not measure how a student will perform in college.

According to a UA Honors College official, standardized tests seem to reflect little about what a student can achieve in college.

"I don't think these tests could tell us something we don't already know," said Stephanie Adamson, senior program coordinator with the UA Honors College. "The way in which we accept honors students depends on many factors."

Honors students are accepted to the UA on the basis of their unweighted high school GPA, how many challenging courses they attempted, and the total number of academic units they took.

Honors students are also judged on how they perform on the SAT and ACT. This is fair because it is not the UA Honors College's sole requirement; it is one of many ingredients that that are considered when determining a successful student.

If a university honors college is looking at so many factors when determining which students can be successful, how can it possibly be fair for the state of Arizona to use one test to determine whether or not a student can graduate from high school?

And how can it possibly be fair for U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley to claim that education will vastly improve if standardized tests are implemented everywhere?

In a statement last week, Riley said that he now endorses high-stakes testing like AIMS in order to make sure students are being taught well.

"We still seem to be using America's high schools as sorting machines, tagging and labeling young people as successful, run of the mill or low achievers," Riley said.

If Riley believes standardized tests, which label student achievement by looking at one test score on a scantron, can remedy this problem, he does not understand the definition of standardized tests.

Such a generic assessment should not be such a significant requirement for high school graduates.

Assessing student performance cannot be done simply by looking at numbers on a scantron. Especially when, as the New York students know, someone can easily screw it up.

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