Testing reaches a newer standard
Photo by JAIMIE HSU
by KEITH OSHIMA
While recent standardized test scores might not show it, changes to standardized testing have been beneficial to schools and their students and need to be given time and proper implementation to achieve their potential.
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), features an overarching change in its design from its predecessor, the California Standards Test (CST). The SAT will also features comprehensive changes beginning next year. Both tests focus on examining students’ critical thinking skills, which are essential in the modern world, according to corestandards.org and usnews.com. While both have changed formats to incorporate these skills, the SBAC went a step further, replacing the standard pencil and paper tests with tests completely taken online. The effects have been unsettling to many.
According to cde.ca.gov, scores on the Smarter Balanced Tests showed a significant drop from the CST, as 68 percent of students statewide who took the mathematics portion failed to reach proficiency with the Common Core standards and another 56 percent failed to meet the standards on the English-Language Arts portion. Recent SAT scores from the class of 2015, although as yet unaffected by the test changes, have also seen the steepest drop in over a decade as the nationwide average is 1490 out of 2400 as reported by washingtonpost.com.
These recent results have reaffirmed the issue of the nation’s students’ steady decline in test performance, and many state legislatures have questioned the need for, or outright refused to implement, these standardized test changes, according to usnews.com. Nearly 200,000 students in New York have opted out of this spring’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a test similar to the SBAC, after receiving poor scores in last year’s exam. However, some failure is to be expected with any great change; blaming a test for this and opting out will do nothing to improve the situation.
In fact, the low scores on the standardized tests have only highlighted more of the problems of the education system and may spark enough debate to force changes. Many of today’s students are not college ready, as schools focus extensively on test-taking rather than on real world skills that involve critical thinking and analysis of reading material. A study done by the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization of the nation’s largest urban school systems, showed that students take an average of 113 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade. New standards are also more connected to work assigned in schools and are far easier to implement into curriculum than old state testing, which had varying standards across the nation, according to corestandards.org. Students and teachers will have a much clearer idea of what to expect on these new tests, since the standards of the tests are the same across the country.
Lack of funding for materials necessary for Common Core testing has been a huge criticism of implementing these new changes. According to edusource.org, $3.5 billion is to be spent for Common Core testing in the coming year. Even with this funding, difficulties and issues with tablets, laptops and desktop computers continue to plague exam takers. According to washingtonpost.com, more than a dozen states have experienced troubles with Common Core standardized testing because much of the technology was rushed and poorly implemented. Problems have also arisen from the program itself, when the program used to test students freezes and inputs are not read correctly.
English language learners and those who are economically disadvantaged both received lower scores on both the English and mathematics portions of the SBAC, as reported by cde.ca.gov. The test utilizes lengthy explanations in language that these students are not able to process as efficiently as those who are fluent in English or come from more advantaged backgrounds.
However, technology, in many regards, has been helpful to students. College Board partnered with Khan Academy to give free test prep for the SAT to accompany the 2016 test change, according to cnn.com, making test prep less expensive and easier to access. Moreover, without the technology to supplement it, the SBAC would not be nearly as interactive as it is. If it was on paper, the interactive graphs and figures, listening exercises and answering options would not be available.
While these great changes to standardized testing may seem irksome to many, they have undoubtedly shaken the academic world with their ingenuity and ability to connect students to school curriculums and the real world; in time, these changes may have an even more drastic impact on the testing model known today.