Standardized Testing in Schools
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Fordham Study Looks at Standardized Testing in Schools


"State accountability systems incomplete," says new Fordham study of standardized testing
in schools and accountability policies...


Grading the Systems:

The guide to state standardized testing in schools and accountability policies, from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Accountability Works, examines thirty states to see how well these essential components tie together (as of January 2003). Specifically, the authors look at six key elements of an effective and complete accountability package for primary-secondary schooling:
  • state standards (for reading and math)
  • the content of state standardized testing in schools
  • alignment between standards and tests (to ensure that what's supposed to be taught is also what's being tested)
  • test rigor (whether passing scores are set where they should be)
  • test trustworthiness and transparency
  • accountability measures (whether the state has incentives)
  • consequences, and interventions for students, adults, and districts)
Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received solid scores for at least three of six elements, with the Bay State posting excellent scores for its standards. Most multi-state averages were merely "fair." The study is available on the web here.

"Simply requiring states to have standards and accountability is not enough"

"Simply requiring states to have standards and accountability is not enough," remarks Foundation President Chester E. Finn, Jr. "They also need to be scrutinized to see how effective their accountability systems are. Now that all states have standards for reading and math, we must work to ensure that their tests are aligned to those standards and that the results mean something for students and adults alike."

Summary results for the thirty states studied are as follows, graded on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being "outstanding":


Other study findings:

If No Child Left Behind is fully implemented by the states, almost every state will have a "solid" set of mechanisms for holding schools and districts accountable for student performance. But incentives and consequences for students are unaddressed by the law, and few states have adequate accountability policies in this area. Surprisingly, custom-developed state "criterion-referenced tests" are only slightly better aligned to state content standards than off-the-shelf "norm-referenced tests," though there is substantial room for improvement in both cases. Also, in nearly all cases of weak alignment, the content of the state standardized testing in schools is superior to the content of the state standards.

Across the board, states are setting their "cut scores" (the percentage of items students have to get correct on a test to be labeled "proficient") far too low.

While a few states have high-quality standards in reading and math, most are merely "fair."

In short...

In short, after a decade of serious efforts toward standards-based reform, the study finds that by the end of the 2002-3 school year, no state had developed a comprehensive K-12 education system that sufficiently covered all three vital aspects of standards-based reform: quality standards-setting, comprehensive standardized testing in schools that truly measures progress against these standards, and the incentives and interventions that will encourage schools and educators to attempt to reach the state's standards.

Comparing standards-based education reform to a "tripod" of standards, tests, and accountability, Finn notes in his foreword to the report, "when standards-based reform is America's principal vehicle for education improvement... when so many hopes are vested in its ability to leverage major gains in school effectiveness and student achievement... the 'tripod' on which rests this movement to raise student achievement is perilously shaky."

AccountabilityWorks president Ted Rebarber called the findings "a wake-up call for many states that they have a long way to go before their K-12 accountability systems are in good working order."

Download a Copy...

Electronic copies of this report re. standardized testing in schools are available here: Standardized Testing in Schools Report

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