Academic journal article Federal Reserve Bank of New York Economic Policy Review

27664131

Academic journal article Federal Reserve Bank of New York Economic Policy Review

27664131

Article excerpt

In the discussion that closed the fourth session, participants raised three concerns regarding the use of standardized tests to assess student readiness to exit the public school system. First, standardized tests might lead some teachers to "teach to the test" rather than to teach material that would address broader educational goals. Second, the potential for racial or gender bias in standardized tests could make them an unfair indicator of a student's competence. Third, because students cannot be forced to take them, standardized tests would do little to solve the more fundamental problem of motivating students to remain in school.

The discussion opened with the suggestion that teachers in states with a long history of using standardized exit exams are more likely to teach to the test. Some participants responded that gearing instruction toward an exam is not necessarily a bad strategy. Julian Betts noted that, according to Richard Murnane, the first step toward implementing the type of standards proposed by Rudy Crew, the National Council of Teachers, and others is to make the tests themselves more interesting. To accomplish this goal, Betts suggested designing tests that assess mathematical, analytical, and writing ability through written responses rather than multiple-choice answers. Such tests would encourage students to think and synthesize information rather than to simply memorize facts. Betts commented that once tests like these were in place, educators would be free to teach to the test because the tests would reflect the school system's underlying educational standards.

Participants then raised a second issue relating to test design: even if the format was changed so that standardized tests no longer encouraged rote memorization, the potential for gender and racial bias would remain. Betts offered some suggestions for minimizing this type of bias. He noted that test writers have already invested substantial resources in trying to write questions that tap into the general knowledge of all students. In addition, Betts suggested that the poor performance of a particular ethnic group on a standardized test does not necessarily indicate that the test is biased. The test results, he noted, are often correlated with measures of success such as earnings later in life. …

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