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Testing: Myths & Realities

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Note: This article, "Tests: Myths & Realities," is excerpted from Testing for Results: Helping Families, Schools and Communities Understand and Improve Student Achievement published by the U. S. Department of Education (2002).

Why Tests Are Necessary
Testing students is nothing new. Good teachers have always tried to measure how well their students are learning and used tests to recognize student achievement and uncover learning problems. Without measuring student achievement, the only criteria governing student grades and promotion would be behavior in class and attendance.

Testing has only recently emerged as an issue because taxpayers are asking more and tougher questions about the performance of their schools and students and seeking more and better information about school and student performance.

The results of teacher-designed exams and a wide assortment of "off the shelf" tests are helpful, but they shed little light on school performance and academic program impact.

How Students Learn: What Works, What Doesn't Work
A strong accountability system composed of annual testing keyed to rigorous academic standards and a challenging curriculum taught in the school provides the sort of information needed to determine what works, what doesn't, how well students are achieving, and what to do to help those who need help.

As the use of standardized tests increases and parents are better able to understand the dimensions of school and student performance, there will be greater pressure on low- performing schools to improve. This worries those who might feel that pressure and so they have attempted to undermine the accountability movement by challenging the usefulness of testing.

The once common-sense assumption that testing is part of learning is being challenged by myths created to undermine the effort to improve America's schools.

9 Myths About Testing

Myth: Testing suppresses teaching and learning.

The Reality: A teacher is effective when a student learns. It is impossible to determine teaching effectiveness without determining learning results.

A teacher can present a great lesson, but if the students do not understand, then the lesson has no value.

Testing students on what they are taught has always been a part of teaching. The process of testing students on what they are learning over a course of instruction is universally understood and appreciated. Testing helps teachers understand what their students need, helps students understand what they need to learn, and helps parents understand how they might help their children.

Myth: Testing narrows the curriculum by rewarding test-taking skills.

The Reality: Although a quality education reaches far beyond the confines of any specific test, annual testing is important. It establishes benchmarks of student knowledge.

Tests keyed to rigorous state academic standards provide a measure of student knowledge and skills. If the academic standards are truly rigorous, student learning will be as well.

Myth: Testing promotes "teaching to the test."

The Reality: Testing is part of teaching and learning. Those who say testing gets in the way of learning frame a false dichotomy.

Gifted and inspiring teachers use tests to motivate students as well as to assess to their learning. Effective teachers recognize the value of testing and know how to employ testing in instruction.

Myth: Testing does not measure what a student should know.

The Reality: In a strong accountability system, the curriculum is driven by academic standards, and annual tests are tied to the standards.

With this in place, tests not only measure what a student should know but also provide a good indication of whether or not the student has indeed learned the material covered by the curriculum.

Myth: Annual testing places too much emphasis on a single exam.

The Reality: Most Americans see the importance of visiting a physician for an annual checkup. They also recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and monitoring their health throughout the year.

Annual testing provides important information on student achievement. Annual testing enables teachers and parents to know how best to improve student performance and diagnose problems that might be associated with poor performance.

If a single annual test were the only device a teacher used to gauge student performance, it would indeed be inadequate. Effective teachers assess their students in various ways during the school year. As they do this, they not only monitor student achievement but also help to ensure that their students will excel on annual tests.

Myth: Testing discriminates against different styles of test takers.

The Reality: A well-designed evaluation system accommodates special needs.

Evaluating the performance of all students is not easy. Some students do have trouble taking tests. Some students score poorly for reasons outside the classroom. A good evaluation system will reflect the diversity of student learning and achievement.

Myth: Testing provides little helpful information and accomplishes nothing.

The Reality: A good evaluation system provides invaluable information that can help diagnose achievement problems. Testing gives information that is necessary for teachers and parents to make informed decisions about instruction and curriculum in the classroom, school, district, and home.

Testing is proves useful information and can change the way schools operate.

Myth: Testing hurts the poor and people of color.

The Reality: Millions of young people—many from low-income families, many people of color - are being left behind every day because of low expectations about their academic achievement and inadequate measures to determine academic achievement.

These are the students who stand to benefit the most from annual testing.

A strong accountability system will make it impossible to ignore achievement gaps where they exist.

Moreover, where testing systems are now in place, low-income and minority students are indeed excelling. A recent study reports that there are more than 4,500 high-poverty and high-minority schools nationwide that scored in the top one-third on the state tests.

Myth: Testing will increase dropout rates and create physical and emotional illness in children.

The Reality: The overwhelming majority of students who drop out of school do so because they are frustrated. They cannot read or write or learn.

Testing helps with the early identification of students who are having trouble learning so they may get the services they need to succeed. Testing, in any form, does sometimes cause anxiety. Effective teachers understand this and help students prepare for it. Testing is a part of life, and young people need to be equipped to deal with it.

Note: "Testing: Myths & Realities" is excerpted from an longer article published by the U. S. Department of Education, Testing for Results: Helping Families, Schools and Communities Understand and Improve Student Achievement (2002)

No Child Left Behind Links

Facts About Measuring Progress: For too long, America's education system has not been accountable for its results, and too many children have been locked in failing schools and left behind.

Facts About Reading Achievement: More than 60 percent of students are not proficient readers - more than half do not have the skills they will need to succeed in school or life. The solution? Provide teachers with up-to-date information on how to use scientific-based research to teach reading skills to children - and ensure that they use these methods in the classroom.


Testing & Assessment Links

My Child's IQ scores are falling. Doesn't this mean he isn't learning? The school says he's doing "just fine."

What is the Matthew Effect? Answers frequently asked questions about falling IQ scores; links to more information.

Are Children with Disabilities Required to Take High Stakes Tests? Answers to questions about using high stakes tests for children with disabilities.

What You Should Know About Evaluations. As a parent, you must make sure that all areas of possible need are assessed as quickly as possible. While some parents would rather not allow their school system to evaluate their child, a refusal to cooperate at this stage of the process can backfire . . . " Read article

Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Educator, Advocate & Attorney.
Your child has received special education for three years. Has your child caught up with the peer group? Has your child fallen further behind? How can you tell? What do standard scores, percentile ranks, subtest scores, and age and grade equivalents mean?

Tests & Measurements is required reading for ALL our clients. To successfully negotiate for services that provide educational benefit, parents need to know how to interpret test scores. To ensure that you have the graphics in this article, print the article from the screen (rather than download it). #1 download since 1998!

Slide Show - Educational Progress Graphs Download Tests & Measurements Slide Show as a PowerPoint Presentation (204kb)

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