Friday, April 23, 2010

MAM Day 23: Standardized Tests

Did the picture above make you anxious? Do scantron sheets and filling in the bubbles not make sense to you? What are the chances that many of you know exactly what I'm talking about? Today's post is on standardized tests. I would guess it's been a while since some of you have taken a standardized test, but most Boston Public School students will take (or have taken) a standardized test this year.

MCAS, Terra Nova, SAT, ACT, and GRE are just some of the biggest and most recognizable standardized tests in the United States.

From my research it seems there are two big debates around standardized tests. 1) Standardized tests don't take socio-cultural differences and backgrounds into consideration when the tests are created. Standardized tests are accused of cultural bias. 2) Standardized tests have weakened academic and district curriculum. Teachers then create lesson plans that revolve around the standardized tests instead of encouraging intellectual creativity and curiosity - teachers are accused of "teaching to the test".

So why are almost 2/3rds of Massachusetts students are still taking the MCAS? Why are students across the nation required to take a standardized test at some point in their academic careers? The SAT and ACT are taken by all students who go to college, and graduate standardized tests are even more rigorous.

Standardized tests are "standard" so all the students who take them are being tested on the same material. The MCAS is standardized because schools and districts across the Commonwealth don't have the same curriculum and therefore cannot measure how much and what a student has learned. Students who take the SAT are being tested on general concepts and skills that have been proven to predict a students' academic success through college. The only way students in Wisconsin can be compared to students in Oklahoma is by a standardized test.

State standardized tests are also important to gague how well a school is doing, how well teachers are educating their students. If students are consistently doing poorly on a certain section of the test, it means the school curriculum needs to be revised to address the what and how students are being taught. If students aren't being taught well, it might also mean that teachers haven't been trained enough to address certain topics.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assesment System or the MCAS is a statewide standardized test for students grades 3 through 10. Students have to pass the MCAS in order to graduate from Boston Public Schools. Although Massachusetts students tend to show high achievement in comparison to the rest of the nation, last year many schools and districts in the Commonwealth don't meet national or state benchmarks for achievement - 54% of all schools statewide, failed to meet the benchmarks. Although I don't know how to solve this problem, I do know that volunteers who provide academic support are working, slowly but surely, to bring up MCAS scores. Not to worry, there are MCAS supporters who see a brighter future for our students and the MCAS.

The SAT is one of the most distinguished standardized tests, which is used as a benchmark for college acceptance across the United States. The ACT is the other standardized test used to gauge a student's college potential. I believe the ACT is more widely used in colleges on the West Coast. This article details the differences between theACT and the SAT.

Boston students will be taking their math MCAS in May! If you're working with students, cheer them on and help them while you can!
Grades 3 – 8 : May 10 – May 27
Grade 10 : May 17 - May18

I'll end with a few standardized test resources:
Teachers' tips for standardized test takers.
MCAS prep help


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