Testing errors

Standardized testing has become a widely used and trusted method of educational assessment in the United States. More and more states are making standardized tests high stakes for K-12 education. However, Minnesota has seen what can go wrong when high-stakes tests are administered poorly and without necessary scrutiny. Last year, Minnesota students needed to pass a standardized test in order to graduate, but errors in the test affected 8,000 students and prevented some from graduating. National Computer Systems, the company that administered the test, is now facing a class-action lawsuit. It is difficult to say if monetary compensation will help mitigate the damage done to the students and their families. This situation should be a lesson to those who support the use of high-stakes standardized testing.

The students denied diplomas because of the testing error undoubtedly suffered ramifications that will not be remedied by money. Not only were they prohibited from participating in graduation ceremonies with their class, they could have lost important financial aid for postsecondary endeavors, and their acceptances into postsecondary institutions might have been denied. More important than these unfair consequences is the fact that their postsecondary education has been indefinitely postponed. A recent study revealed that students who take a year off after high school have much higher chances of never starting or completing higher education; the students who didn’t graduate because of the testing error have suffered an irreparable blow to their formal education as well as their self-confidence.

Because of their format, multiple-choice standardized tests have a high risk for error if they are not carefully checked, double-checked and triple-checked by multiple parties. Also, multiple-choice tests are cheaper to administer and correct, so they are often used instead of more
comprehensive and complex question-answer tests. Students, parents, educators and legislators should not be so reliant on standardized tests for assessment considering the high risk for error. Making the tests high-stakes like they are in Minnesota is a very dangerous decision.

Unfortunately, President George W. Bush has pushed Congress to pass a bill requiring that all states use annual tests to monitor school performance in grades three through eight. Not only are standardized tests prone to error, but they fail to actually test for mastery of subject material. Required tests promote fact-regurgitation and memorization instead of knowledge comprehension. Also, in worst-case scenarios, in-class curriculum will shift toward test-based goals and away from critical thinking and idea development. Standardized tests are not the best way to assess a student’s knowledge and should not be so highly valued. Hopefully the newly Democrat-controlled Senate will defeat Bush’s absurd education proposal.

Despite Bush’s plans, there is a definite anti-test movement among educators, parents, and students. Across the country, teachers are engaging in walkouts and refusing to give standardized tests, and parents are signing waivers excusing their children from taking them. A movement is slowly getting underway here at the University in opposition to the foreign language Graduation Proficiency Test. Like the Minnesota graduation test, the proficiency test is unnecessary for students in the College of Liberal Arts who have studied a language for two years with passing grades. In addition to errors that can occur when grading the test, there is no reason to put needless stress on students, especially when proficiency tests are not common for each college across campus. High-stakes standardized tests can only serve a limited function and they should not be the deciding factor in a student’s future.