In this issue
The state of education testing: The good, the bad, the new
By Tracy Packiam Alloway and John Horton
High-stakes testing traditionally has been used to measure and assess how well students learn.1 This educational practice aligns with a new federal law, which indicates that states must administer assessments of reading and math from grades 3 to 8, as well as in high school. What has been good about this approach is the objectivity and level of comparison that it offers to teachers, schools and parents; the child's performance and skill set is both norm-referenced and criterion-referenced. This detailed feedback allows end users the ability to make informed decisions about school admission, graduation and curriculum development.
Despite this long-standing education tradition, there has been growing concern about the reliability and validity of such testing. Can a snapshot like this provide effective diagnostic information? Can it measure higher-order thinking? These are some of the questions leveled against high-stakes testing in education. In response to what educational researchers describe as “washback” — time learning for tests does not develop the abilities the tests are designed to measure — there has been a recent shift from high-stakes testing to more ability-driven testing in education.
Current International Trends
The objective of this report is to provide a brief overview of some changing trends internationally in the area of evaluation and testing. The following information reflects international trends from 2015.
China — Testing has been abolished in grades 1- 3 by the Chinese Ministry of Education (2013).2
Japan — High-stakes testing to get into high schools and college will be replaced with tests that measure ability (multiple testing sessions, rather than a single testing session). This education reform will replace testing with a new exam focusing on testing the applicants' ability to use their knowledge to think, make judgments, express themselves and solve problems. The testing format will no longer be multiple choice, but short, descriptive answers to questions.3
South Africa — Test scores for university admission have been abolished and replaced with tests that focus on higher-order questions.4
There is also growing concerns that standardized IQ testing is not culture-fair. A cross-cultural comparison of British and South African students on the same standardized IQ test indicated significant differences in performance in verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning and processing speed, but not working memory.5
Unlike in Asia, European countries did not appear to be making a similar shift; the focus at present still remains on high-stakes testing.
Finland — High stakes testing also is a crucial requirement of college entrance with one standardized exam at the end of high school.
U.K. — High-stakes testing- By the age of 16, most students have undergone 15 or 20 substantial examinations. These exams are critical for college entry. In contrast, GPA is less relevant for college entrance qualifications.
Other testing trends in Europe include proposals for more stringent medical and psychological testing of pilots as an early identification of possible depressive symptoms and suicidal tendencies.6
There appears to be a growing trend for students to opt out of standardized testing and evaluation. Some examples include:
Florida — Major Florida school district abandons year-end testing. For example, Miami-Dade County public schools (the 4 th largest district in the nation) will significantly reduce the amount of year-end testing they do and will eliminate all year-end exams for elementary school students. The superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools believes that this is a trend that the rest of the country will follow.7
New Mexico and New Jersey — Groups of families refused to take Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments. The laws pertaining to testing refusal are unclear so it is difficult to compel students to take these tests.8
In South America, there is a growing trend to privatize the process of standardized testing. A Brazilian company, Descomplica, is already known as a test prep platform for Brazil's standardized college entrance exam tests, delivering a library of 15,000 videos to more than eight million students a month. Decascompli wants to continue this trend and roll out more test prep sessions for students at a lower price.9
If we abandon high-stakes testing, what are we left with instead? One approach is to keep using existing standardized tests – just test less frequently.10 Another approach is to shift the focus of WHAT we test to something new. Instead of specific knowledge-based information, some schools are looking at more general skills, ranging from executive function, working memory, grit, and social and emotional intelligence, to name a few. A case in point is New York City – the Independent Schools Admission Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) put out a press release in the New York Times that they no longer recommend high stakes testing using standardized IQ tests as a requirement for the admission process.11 This meant that upwards of 70 private schools can choose their own admission criteria instead of adhering to a uniform admission criterion. Is this the future of educational testing? Only time will tell.
5 Cockcroft, K., Alloway, T.P., Copello, E., & Milligan, R. (2015). A cross-cultural comparison between South African and British students on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales Third Edition (WAIS-III). Frontiers in Psychology, section Quantitative Psychology and Measurement.
10 Kamenetz, A. (2010). Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing, but You Don't Have to Be.