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Academic Standards and Standardized Testing

Every school district adheres to certain academic standards. These standards are set up both nationally and at the state level to ensure that all students in the public school system are receiving the same education which ultimately reflects the goals of the educational system. In essence, standards state what students should know and be able to do upon completing a specific grade level or course.

Standards don't tell you how to get to the goal or give you any guidelines on books or materials. They just say, "Get here by June." Your state or district may break down the national standards into a prescribed curriculum for your subject, including books and materials. Other districts and most private schools allow the teacher to be creative in designing his or her own route to the learning goals.

Types of Standards

  • A content standard is the simple goal. A 6th grade orchestra student should be able to play the two octave D-major scale.
  • A performance standard measures the student's ability to meet the content standard. For a performance standard, a teacher may have a rubric where a student earns points for posture, tone quality, correct notes, and intonation.

Two Types of Standardized Tests

  • The first is the norm-referenced test. In a norm-referenced test students' scores are compared to the average score of students who took the test in previous years. A norm-referenced test will focus on general objectives rather that specific skills. It's a valid way to assess overall achievement and is often the way schools decide which students should be admitted to honors programs. Because these tests compare students to each other, some students will compete to be the best while others will compete to be the worst.
  • The second type of test is the criterion-referenced test. This test compares a student's knowledge to a certain standard of performance, rather than to a peer group. They measure a student's mastery of specific academic objectives. In looking at the scores from a criterion-referenced test, it is easy to determine what skills a student can perform and which he or she cannot. If a student performs extremely well on a criterion-references test, then the teacher knows the objectives have been mastered and the student is probably ready for harder material.

Standardized tests are often called high-stakes tests because they can affect many aspects of a child's academic life as well as bonuses for teachers and funding for schools. A senior hoping to get into a specific college may be denied due to a low SAT score. A third grader who wasn't feeling well the day of the test may be denied entrance to the gifted program at her school. In many states, passing a standardized test is required for high school graduation. Teachers have lost jobs over poorly performing students and schools have lost funding. It's a stressful situation for everyone.

There are many who call for the end of standardized testing and a return to less regimented times when the teacher knew best and taught her students in a way that was engaging and creative. What do you think?


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