Assessment versus Achievement: Winner Takes All!

By Simon, Marsha | Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Assessment versus Achievement: Winner Takes All!


Simon, Marsha, Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy


Introduction

Districts and schools across the nation are struggling with the consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act of2001 (NCLB). Florida schools are no exception. One major goal of NCLB is to close the achievement gap (USDOE, 2004). Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the mechanism for demonstrating that states are making progress toward closing the achievement gap by 2013-2014 (USDOE, 2004). Under NCLB, states are required to determine AYP according to standards-based statewide assessments (USDOE, 2004). These assessments measure student performance in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science based on racial/ethic, socioeconomic status (SES), disability, and English language proficiency subgroups1 to determine AYP. Despite above-average rate of compliance with federal requirements regarding standards, assessments, and accountability (Quality Counts, 2008), Florida has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) since implementation of NCLB in 2002-2003 (FDOE, 2005a; Gay, 2007). Not only has the state failed to make AYP for its duration, Black, Hispanic, students with low SES, and students with disabilities have consistently failed to make AYP in Florida (FDOE, 2005d). High stakes assessments attach significant consequences for K-12 students in Florida (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; Barksdale-Ladd, 2000; FDOE, 2005b; Lee, Borman, & Tyson, 2005).

Policy makers, educators, parents, students, and community members base their support or opposition to statewide assessments on various and distinct assumptions, many of which have not been rigorously addressed (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; Barksdale-Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Simmons, Feggins-Azzia, & Choong-Geun, 2005). For example, Amrein and Berliner (2002) cite the manipulability of state assessments through narrowing the curriculum and exclusion of certain students from testing as their rationale for substituting the ACT, SAT, NAEP, and AP exams as proxies for statewide assessments. The proxy exams were used to evaluate students' learning transfer of domain-specific knowledge assessed on state assessments in 18 states, including Florida, that place high stakes on state assessments. Similarly, teacher reports to Barksdale-Ladd and Thomas (2000) indicated that teachers felt pressure from their administrators to teach test content, formatting and test-taking skills on a daily basis in preparation for statewide assessments. According to the teachers interviewed, test preparation activities superseded activities such as fieldtrips, cooperative learning activities, and science experiments that did not specifically address test content, but that would otherwise expand students' critical thinking and social skills. Hence, major assumptions driving opposition to high stakes testing are that these assessments result in less time for teaching and learning as well as narrowing of the curriculum as teachers spend valuable instructional time focusing on test-preparation activities and content included on the test (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; Barksdale-Ladd, 2000; Christenson, Decker, Triezenberg, Ysseldyke, & Reschly, 2007; Scheurich & Skrla, 2003; Smith 2000).

Moreover, often as efforts to remediate academic deficits are intensified, students fall farther and farther behind, as demonstrated by the persistent failure of targeted subgroups such as African-American and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to make AYP in Florida (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; FDOE, 2005d). Although outcomes from the accountability movement remain mixed, Skrla, Scheurich, and Johnson (2001) call for a "...new consensus among educational researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and others connected to U.S. education on all levels that children of color and children from low income homes are entitled to high levels of academic success in all schools" (p.231). While definitive causes of the achievement gap remain contested (Gay, 2007; Hargreaves, 2004; Jennings & Rentner, 2006; Obed, Ault, Jr. …

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