Educational Curriculum Standards & Standardized Educational Tests: Comparing Apples & Oranges?

By Stansfield, William D. | The American Biology Teacher, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Educational Curriculum Standards & Standardized Educational Tests: Comparing Apples & Oranges?


Stansfield, William D., The American Biology Teacher


In 2002, the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation was enacted, requiring every K-12 pupil to attain the seemingly impossible goal of becoming "proficient" in reading and mathematics by 2014. Each state was expected to establish its own standards and develop its own set of standardized tests to accomplish the national goal if it was to receive federal educational grants. The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) served as a guide for each state to develop its own standards. The NCLB law also allowed each state to define its own concept of "proficiency." Could the legislators not have foreseen that individual states might be tempted to adjust the rigor of their standards or tests, thereby increasing the average state test scores and the percentage of students acquiring "proficiency"? Without mandated national educational curriculum standards and national standardized tests, making comparisons between different states' educational performance tests is like trying to compare apples and oranges. We often read about how poorly some states are performing on statewide educational tests, but these comparisons may be meaningless unless all states use the same curriculum standards and standardized tests. Comparisons between schools in different counties of a state, however, should be more meaningful because they are being evaluated on a more even playing field.

The NCLB law also allowed the establishment of charter schools (privately managed "public" schools financially supported by government funds) in expectation that such deregulation would increase student performance on test scores. However:

Despite the recent expansion of charter schools, test results did not generally improve--either there or in the regular public schools, which increasingly enrolled more disadvantaged pupils, special education students, and the troublesome and inattentive, all unlikely to lift scores. "No Child" only required testing in mathematics and English, so art, music, history, social studies, and science classes were cut in many school systems. Teachers taught a narrower range of topics even within the tested subjects, undermining learning. Without any evident improvement in test scores, the curriculum narrowed and teaching to the test on the truncated basics became more prevalent. (Reese, 2010)

The lack of mandated national science educational standards and tests makes comparisons between U.S. schools and those of other nations even more problematic than comparisons between states. The 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment reports that 15-year-old students ranked 21st among the 30 developed nations in science. It is of interest to note that almost all of these competitive countries have national science-education standards and score much higher on international science-achievement assessments. Would the United States perform better in international comparisons if it had its own national educational standards that differed from those adopted by other nations? "Efforts are now under way that can move the United States toward what are often referred to as 'common, internationally benchmarked, state-approved standards'" (Leshner et al., 2010). If uniform standards and tests were adopted by all states, then shouldn't "teaching to the tests" give students the best opportunity to perform well? With class time at such a premium, how can teachers justify devoting class time to subjects not directly related to statewide test questions?

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released a draft of Framework for Science Education containing new standards in March 2010 for public comment until 2 August 2010; the final version will be publicly available sometime in 2011. The draft Framework consists of two documents: Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, and Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science and Technology Subjects. …

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