Whatever is Standardized Achievement?

As we continue our efforts to decipher legislative changes impacting Texas education it seems equally important to take a step back to examine testing from a broader perspective.  One could easily get lost in the sea of standardized acronyms: TASS, STAAR, SAT..…But shouldn’t we be asking if high stakes testing is doing us any good?

No Child Left Behind ushered standardized achievement testing firmly into the classrooms of every state. Yet few studies have made efforts to evaluate the impact this model is having on education as a whole – and more importantly, on students. Even if you’re more interested in measuring achievement than critical thinking, doesn’t it still make sense to make sure the chosen method is producing the desired results?

Unfortunately, past efforts to assess the efficacy of high-stakes testing yielded conflicting outcomes, leading researchers to conclude that “there was no compelling evidence that the implementation of high-stakes testing improved student achievement” (Amrein & Berliner 2002a, 2002b).

Existing studies are further invalidated by the fact that few account for key demographic factors known to impact achievement (Marchant, Paulson & Shunk, 2001). When family income, parent education, ethnicity and the exclusion of students with disabilities or limited English proficiency are controlled, the correlation between high-stakes testing and improved achievement scores all but disappears.

In fact, high-stakes achievement testing was only related to significant improvements in achievement when demographic differences were not taken into account (Marchant, Paulson & Shunk, 2001).  Put more bluntly, researchers who included demographic information in their study concluded “these results do not vindicate a general education reform effort focused almost exclusively on testing nor does it provide adequate support to any argument that high stakes testing is necessary to raise student achievement” (Marchant, Paulson & Shunk, 2001).

It seems that the verdict is still out on the accuracy and utility of using high-stakes testing to measure student achievement…yet these tests are increasingly used to determine whether or not students advance from grade to grade or even graduate.

Even the actual manuals created by testing companies for school administrators stress the importance of looking at classroom performance and teacher evaluation over “a test score from an achievement battery” to evaluate significant decisions such as grade retention.

If even the people making the tests warn against using tests as the main component to evaluate student performance, why do we place increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing to measure of accountability?

Isn’t it time to ask what these standardized tests are actually measuring?!

We have already discussed how Texas’ TAKS exams fail to measure higher order thinking skills like problems solving. What about long term success in college and beyond?

Research shows that 80% of college success is measured by factors other than the SAT and that “there is little to no correlation between test scores and earnings” (Bracey, 2001). Robert Sternberg of Yale University drives this point home stating “tests measure only a portion of the knowledge and analytical skills that might be needed on the job while they measure nothing at all about creativity or common sense” (Bracey, 2001).

What legacy are we leaving today’s students if they are being taught how to memorize information and rewarded for achieving on tests that in no way measure their ability to succeed in higher education or in the real world?

I understand that some form of measurement is unavoidable and even necessary. But attempting to assess achievement through high-stakes standardized testing simply leaves too much out of the equation.

What’s more, we must consider how the growing emphasis on high-stakes achievement tests is impacting the very fabric of education. What kind of society are we investing in if all we know how to do is memorize and regurgitate predetermined curriculum?


Amrein, A.L., & Berliner, D.C. (2002a). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved July 18, 2003, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/.

Amrein, A.L., & Berliner, D.C. (2002b). The impact of high-stakes tests on student academic performance:     An analysis of NAEP results in states with high-stakes tests and ACT, SAT, and AP Test results in states with high school graduation exams. Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Studies Laboratory, Arizona State University. Retrieved July 18, 2003, from http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/documents/EPSL-0211-126-EPRU.pdf.

Bracey, G. W. (2001). TEST SCORES IN THE LONG RUN. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(8), 637.

Marchant, G. J., Paulson, S. E., & Shunk, A. (2006). Relationships between high-stakes testing policies and student achievement after controlling for demographic factors in aggregated data. education policy analysis archives, 14, 30.


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