Has Standardized Testing Changed for Better or Worse?
The field of education is not a rigid one, often re-invented in order to adapt to changing times. The same goes for standardized testing on both national and state levels.
In 2010, Colorado took another look at its state academic standards and the tests being used to evaluate them. The results of changes made by the state five years ago are affecting students here and now, as Colorado was introduced to two new standardized tests this year, the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
The Royal Banner asked students and staff what they saw as the biggest changes in standardized testing during their academic careers. Responses were varied but give insight into the evolution of standardized tests in Colorado and the reception this evolution is receiving.
One major change to standardized testing this year has been the shift from paper and pencil tests to the computers. The reason for the transition is to receive the results of each student faster than before.
“Theoretically [computers] can get the data back faster. So that’s one of the big advantages of doing it on the computer,” said Assistant Principal Lynn Donnelly. “But this year we are not going to get the data until next fall, even slower than the written test.”
Students have criticized the introduction of computers into the testing environment.
“I personally don’t like computer tests because you have to scroll and read,” said sophomore Rianna Patel.
Sophomore Punya Ramesh said, “It will take some getting used to.”
Computers also pose a significant problem for schools who do not have the technological resources to test students efficiently.
“A lot of schools don’t have the resources to give their whole student body a computer test,” said junior Maddie Weiss.
Duration of Testing
When asked about the biggest change she has seen in standardized tests over the years, Donnelly said, “They keep increasing the amount of testing. That’s a big change.”
The HB14-1202 Taskforce formed by the state of Colorado estimated that the amount of instructional time lost to standardized testing in high school was the following: 29.9 hours for 9th grade, 28.1 hours for 10th and 11th grade, and 22.1 hours for 12th grade. This adds up to about 106 hours overall, the equivalent of 115 normal class periods across the four grades.
The amount of standardized testing has proven a controversial topic this year, as parents, students, and educators voice their concern both in Colorado and across the nation.
Outrage over the CMAS in November lead to a mass opt-out, with only seven seniors choosing to take the test. PARCC is receiving similar criticism from students.
“[Testing] has just gotten a lot longer,” said junior Teagan Signorelli.
Junior Brooke Garbarini, although saying that “it would be great to have more instructional time,” also points out that sacrificing class time is necessary in order to receive important data from testing.
“Ultimately, I think we have to give up some amount of time in order to measure student performance,” she said.
“We had standardized testing when I was school,” said Donnelly. “I think the big difference is that now we use the data. I don’t know if we did anything with it when I was in school.”
Data analysis is essential to schools in order to identify which students may need further guidance.
“Testing is a good thing when it helps us to become better teachers for all students,” said Language Arts teacher Angie Luper. “The measurements have pointed out that there are some pockets of students that are not doing well and schools have studied the results to address the needs of those students.”
However now, in order to get more authentic data, those in charge of standardized testing are considering administering three tests, the reasoning behind this being to gather more valid results on each test and generate accurate statistics.
However, Donnelly worries that this strategy may not yield students’ best results.
“By the third test you’re getting burned out, especially if you don’t know what the point is, or what value [the test] has for you,” she said.
The Common Core State Standards
The Common Core is a set of academic standards in math and language arts which have been adopted by 43 states including Colorado. According to their website, the goal of the Common Core is to “outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.”
State standards for student achievement underwent major changes in 2010, when the Colorado State Board of Education voted to incorporate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS).
This addition is apparent in standardized tests like PARCC, which focus more heavily on analytical skills and critical thinking than tests of the past.
“[PARCC] is testing students’ ability to work on a problem and think deeply about what they are learning rather than rote memorization,” said Garbarini in defense of the PARCC test.
Although educators may agree that the change in material of state mandated tests has improved, some still find issues with other aspects of the test.
“I think the PARCC test is a well written test, I think it’s a good test,” said Jim Lewis, Language Arts teacher. “Time is a major factor though. Students are studying for AP tests, IB assessments, ACTs, and SATs, not to mention tests for all of their classes.”
Another major change to state-mandated standardized testing is that neither CSAPs nor TCAPs tested students past the 10th grade, while PARCC tests through 11th grade. High school students experience a peak in testing as juniors, taking AP and IB tests, the ACT, and the SAT, sometimes more than once.
“Students are already frequently assessed on their knowledge,” said Lewis. “At what point are we going too far?”
Donnelly explained during a QA session that since PARCC is a national test, it is administered in some states which do not mandate that juniors take the ACT. In this way, PARCC takes the ACT’s place, collecting data about eleventh graders at a national level. However, states like Colorado which do require juniors to take the ACT still must test their juniors with PARCC as well.
Dean of Students and former LA teacher Jay Stott said, “I think we [teachers] are all pretty comfortable with the idea that the SAT, and to a similar extent the ACT, can do a pretty good job of getting a rough approximation of where a student is at.”
Junior Chris Wagers is one of many students who will be taking the ACT twice this year, as well as the SAT and an AP test for Language Arts. He said that the PARCC test “takes almost all the test prep time that we have in that [LA] class which is really an issue. The extent to which they are taking [standardized testing] is over the top.”
What Comes Next?
Changing standardized testing to please everyone will always be a difficult task. According to students and teachers, the ideal standardized test would be shorter and wouldn’t define a student so distinctly.
“As I talk to people in the education profession, most people won’t object to one 40 or 45 minute test a year,” said Donnelly.
According to the Washington Post, the number of states working with PARCC has dropped from 26 to 12 since 2010. These states’ refusals to implement new standardized testing signals another important change in the world of education: an increase in backlash against standardized assessments.
“Test scores measure a student’s performance on the day they take the test, nothing more,” said Luper. “There is a whole lot more to human beings than their standardized test score. I am sorry that sometimes programs are cut, good teachers are fired, and students are traumatized because of the misuse of standardized tests.”