Improving Teachers of Minority Students' Attitudes towards and Knowledge of Standardized Tests. (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)

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Abstract

Standardized educational tests have important consequences for both minority and non-minority students. However, there are inconsistencies across these groups with respect to their understanding of the importance of these consequences, and with respect to their test preparation activities. In this study, we worked with teachers from two elementary schools that served predominantly minority populations. The teachers were surveyed regarding their attitudes towards and knowledge of standardized tests. After these data were gathered, a workshop was conducted to discuss the strengths and weakness of standardized tests. Before the workshop, teachers exhibited primarily negative attitudes towards standardized tests and demonstrated limited knowledge of important testing concepts such as reliability and validity. Those teachers who illustrated better understanding of these concepts tended to have more favorable attitudes towards standardized tests. The implications of improving teachers' attitudes and knowledge of standardized tests for improving the test performance of minority students is discussed.

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In this paper we report the results of the first stage of a study designed to improve minority students' performance on standardized tests. It is a common finding that schools and school districts comprising predominantly minority students tend to do poorer on standardized educational achievement tests than those comprising predominantly non-minority students. Many causes for this difference have been hypothesized, such as differences in educational resources and opportunity to learn, and factors related to test bias or inappropriate testing practices. However, cultural and psychological factors that could lead to test performance differences among groups have not been widely investigated (an exception is research conducted by Claude Steele and his colleagues, discussed in the next section). For example, many students in the United States are taught at an early age that tests are important and that they should try their best to do well on them. Other students are completely unfamiliar with the consequences tied to their performance on standardized tests. A hypothesis motivating the present study is that increasing minority students' motivation to do well on standardized tests will result in meaningful improvement in their performance on these tests. Thus, our goal is to create a culture of testing success.

One way to improve students' knowledge of and motivation to do well on standardized tests is to work with their teachers. Several studies revealed that elementary and secondary school teachers lack general knowledge of standardized testing and appropriate test preparation activities (Impara, Divine, Bruce, Liverman, & Gay 1991; Impara & Plake, 1995; Nolen, Haladyna, & Haas, 1992; O=Sullivan & Chalnick, 1991; Popham, 1991; Taylor & Walton, 1998). Similarly, many teachers have negative attitudes towards standardized tests (Green, 1992; Nolen, et al., 1992). Thus, our first goal in raising minority students' test scores was to work with their teachers to improve their understanding of standardized testing, including how to prepare students for taking these tests, and how to use standardized test results to improve instruction.

Our initiation of these activities in pursuit of a culture of testing success is consistent with the suggestions of Steele (1997) who argued that changes in minority students' expectations could lead to improvements in their test performance. Steele and his colleagues (e.g., Steele, 1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995) describe several psychological factors that could negatively affect minority students' academic performance. Paramount among these situational factors are "stereotype threat" and "disidentification" with school. The phenomenon of stereotype threat applies to high achieving students who are engaged in school and for whom academic success becomes part of their self-concept. …