The Meaning of “High Stakes” in Standardized Testing

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The Meaning of “High Stakes” in Standardized Testing
Author  of TheChicagoSchoolReviews.com & ChicagoSchoolReviews.com
In both lower and upper school, the phrase “high stakes” means exactly what it sounds like: exams that have enormous consequences for the test takers. In the years following the passing of No Child Left Behind, high stakes testing became the legal standard for schools and is now used in every US state to determine whether young scholars will proceed to the next grade level or even graduate high school.
These high-stakes exams take the form of standardized tests, which – for the most part – are multiple choice and essay-based tests that are meant to determine whether children are performing at their desired grade level.
The hidden issue here is that high stakes testing also has enormous implications for public schools themselves. Simply put, if the students do not perform up to the standard of standardized tests, the school is labeled as “failing” and may even be closed or taken over by the rising charter school movement.
High stakes testing is also an enormous stressor for educators. Teachers whose students do not make the cut, even those who have been working in public education for many years, often lose their jobs. Teachers whose classrooms perform well often receive salary bonuses, referred to by politicians, as well as those who work higher up in the education world, as an incentive.
According to a journal published by the Harvard Education Publishing Group, social psychologist Donald T. Campbell formulated Campbell’s law in 1975, stating that “the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Campbell’s law is applicable in a number of social and economic situations, and testing in schools is no different.
Many educators believe that as long as children’s performance remains monitored by standardized tests imposed by politicians, the quality of their education will suffer. This is because, for teachers, relegating the academic performance and school experience of their students to a series of numbers is not an effective way of assessing their knowledge, understanding, and improvements in various subject matters.
There are a number of alternatives to high stakes testing that have been developed all over the world that much more effectively assess what students have learned over the course of their school year. Many educators are already working to implement lower stakes evaluations that contribute to, rather than calculate, students’ learning. However, the data-driven nature of American education nowadays means that these alternatives to high stakes testing must be supplemental to, rather than in lieu of, high stakes standardized exams.
This article by the Harvard Education Publishing Group has more information about Campbell’s law, high stakes testing, and alternative forms of assessment. This paper by the Chicago Teachers Union also works to expose the practical truths of standardized testing.
Sources:
http://hepg.org/hel/article/237
http://www.ctunet.com/quest-center/research/position-papers/testing
PDF version of this article by The Chicago School Reviews

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