High stakes testing

Amelia Marcetti Topper has been a part of the education community for over 16 years as a teacher and researcher. She is a doctoral candidate in Arizona State University’s Education Policy and Evaluation program, specializing in Higher Education. Her current research is on issues of access and equity in higher education from the perspective of the capabilities approach, a human development framework. Her dissertation project uses survey, interview, visual elicitation, and participatory ranking methods to explore the tension between perceptions of community college “student success” between students, faculty, and administrators. She holds a Master’s in Leadership in Teaching from Notre Dame of Maryland University and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and the History of Mathematics and Sciences with a minor in Classical Languages from St. John’s College.

The Equity Alliance’s recently published blog post by Dr. Stuart Rhoden calls attention to the growing number of families who are choosing to opt their children out of taking mandatory state standardized exams. Dr. Rhoden argued that opting out is damaging to our students by sending the message that it is okay to give up when faced with a hard task, and that families need to work within the system to bring about changes in accountability measures instead of removing themselves from it out of protest. As I read his commentary, I was struck by his reliance on a popular and pernicious narrative dominating current discussions of what it takes for students to be successful. This type of language, which often uses terms like grit, persistence, perseverance, and sacrifice, is perhaps as damaging as our high stakes testing climate to the education community in that it glorifies the talents and commitment of the individual above all else. On face value, these words feel right; we want our children and our students to be able to navigate obstacles and not be defeated by setbacks. At the same time, we owe it to them to thoroughly understand the assumptions that underlie these concepts about learning and success, and question their real usefulness in explaining what goes into student outcomes – before we apply them.

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Stuart Rhoden, Ph.D. is originally from Chicago, IL. He has been in education for over 15 years. He worked in Washington D.C. and Chicago on education policy and advocacy. He also was a high school teacher in Chicago and Los Angeles for a number of years. For the past five years, he has been a lecturer teaching on issues of culture and diversity, education policy, education philosophy and youth cultures in colleges both in Philadelphia and Phoenix. He currently lives in Phoenix, where he is a full-time Instructor at Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In the past three or four years, there has been a grassroots movement across the country created by some progressive educational groups surrounding students “Opting out” of mandatory high-stakes state test.  My opinion of this is that it is a copout. Until we change the system at broader systemic levels, we are not adequately preparing our students to succeed if we tell them they can opt-out of assessments along the way. This goes well beyond the “work harder/smarter” or “bootstraps” mentality that is often cited as code for structural inequality, but rather my perspective stems from an insistence that students can shine in an inequitable system as it is currently constructed. What is equally important is that as the adults; including educators, policy makers and researchers, need to consider more appropriate ways to analyze positive academic achievement, as well as strive towards creating more accurate measures of student achievement. The student’s role, while important, should not focus on being change agents of systemic inequality (that should be left to the adults), but rather beacons of light who consistently overcome systemic inequality. Read more

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