Essay: Test Development Precede Standards Development?

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¶ … Test Development Precede Standards Development?

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I disagree that test development should precede standards development. It is simple. If there are no standards for student achievement, how can a test be developed to assess their accomplishment? I can see that once standards are developed, they must be adapted at times and modified to match general student intelligence and to ensure they are adequate to test students to the level desired. In cases like this the testing may drive the standards to be adjusted. But, initially, to my thinking, any development of a testing tool must occur subsequent to the establishment of at least some level of required standards for that test to measure.

By the way, this would not just apply in education though that may be our main concern for purposes of this paper. An automobile company doesn't build a car first and then set standards for what specifications it should achieve. Boeing must set standards for all the aircraft they manufacture before they are built (tested) or they would fall out of the sky. A homemaker baking a cake has standards, (it's called a recipe) to which she makes the cake. She or he, doesn't just throw ingredients in a bowl and hope it turns out well. But, back to education.

Paul M. La Marca, Director of Standards, Curricula, and Assessments, Nevada Department of Education says this: "To make defensible accountability decisions based in part on student and school-level academic achievement, states must employ assessments that are aligned to their academic standards" (La Marca, 2001, para. 1). His thoughts are echoed by many in the field of education.

Alignment, mentioned here by La Marca, is the second half of this equation. Alignment refers to the degree of match between test content and the subject area content identified through state academic standards. It consists of two dimensions: content match and depth match.

Content match is how well test content matches with the subject area content as compared to the standards. And this applies not only to the broad academic standard for each category, but to the individual objectives in each subject area as well. Depth match measures how well test questions match with the skills and knowledge as specified in state standards as far as the difficulty of acquiring the knowledge by the student (La Marca, 2001, para. 3).

The point here is that, without standards, we don't know what we're measuring or why. And we certainly can't measure progress using a test that is developed before the measurement standards are developed. With testing becoming a more complex issue in education today, there are facets of it, such as content and depth match, that are critical to measure in order to know if a particular test is effective or not.

Alignment, per standards, is also an ethical requirement. Think about it. Is it fair to the student to judge his achievement of academic requirements based on a system that was set up with no prior standards, or that were established with no alignment as to what they studied in the course and what they are tested on? To take an example to the extreme, we can't test a student for achievement in history by giving her or him a math test. Measuring his achievement in history requires a set of standards that align the test with what they have actually studied and the depth to which they have been taught.

The importance of standards, and of aligning those standards as we have just discussed, cannot be overstated.

In March 1994, President Clinton signed the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act." This legislation created a framework that states can adopt to construct reform strategies, which incorporate three Goals principles: rigorous academic standards; alignment of curriculum, textbooks, and teacher education; and clear incentives to encourage students to strive to meet high standards (Abdal-Haqq, 1995, p. 2).

This measure has also increased teacher participation in authoring standards. In the past many teachers were stuck with standards given them by testing companies and textbook manufacturers. Today, many standards have the input of the people standing in front of the classroom with a history of student performance etched in the standards they have an opinion on.

Teachers and professors are being involved in developing test items, developing and refining test standards, and many more functions regarding setting standards (Abdal-Haqq, 1995).

Bottom line is that standards are becoming more and more refined because the right people are involved in setting them. Therefore, they give a more accurate picture of student progress and achievement at all grade levels. Without the tests examining progress toward these standards, there would be little or no accurate knowledge of students' capabilities.

The question is often asked whether or not standardized tests can possibly be fair to all economic, ethical, and cultural groups. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which develops and administers over 24 million tests annually around the globe answers this question by pointing out that their test questions are examined to eliminate symbols, words, phrases, and art that a country may have a bias. They also utilize statistical analysis to identify questions on which, history has proven, minority students do less well. Most of those questions are reviewed by outside experts and modified or thrown out if necessary (ETS, 2009). Without standardized tests, and organizations that go to great lengths to set and maintain accurate standards before they create their tests, much of the quality and the equity in education around the globe would be missing.

When one considers the importance of aligned, balanced, standards being developed prior to test development, we need only look at the fact that, today, standardized testing drives many of the important education decisions made today: whether students graduate, if schools need improvement in their academic curriculum, and whether teachers keep their jobs are just a few.

A grade school teacher might whip out a weekly math test in an hour, while a standardized test might take up to 18 months to develop that is fair, balanced, and comprehensive. The difference is applying each question to the standard, field-testing it, and finally making a decision whether or not to include it (Toppo, 2004).

With all things considered, in my mind, there is no question but that standards and standardized testing are crucial elements in our educational system today. We may not like to take them, or we may find them overwhelming sometimes, but if we consider where we would be without them -- and without the standards they are developed to meet -- there is solid evidence that they serve a needed and important service.

How Would We Determine if Standards Are Met Without Standardized Tests?

There is a strong faction of parents and educators in the U.S. that do not agree that standardized testing is accomplishing what it should and would prefer an alternative, or at least less standardized testing than their children are exposed to now. They believe that all of this standard testing could not possibly capture the complexities of each child. So what alternatives do they offer? Most are referred to as "alternative assessments."

The portfolio-based assessment relies on collections of the student's work, collected by the teacher throughout the school year. During the year, the teacher and the student gather some of the work which shows progress by the student in various subjects. Students are encouraged to "reflect" on the work that has been collected, and that reflection should assist the student to think about what they have learned as well as about how they have learned it (Peterson & Neill, 1999).

At the end of whatever the grading period might be, the teacher evaluates the work in the portfolio based on some sort of scoring guide. And, sometimes, the student scores their work too. A sample of the work is attached to the student's "learning record" as evidence of the score received. In addition, "random sampling" can be used where a number of students' portfolios are gathered from the class and given to an independent group of teachers from other schools or people in the community. Then, if there is a discrepancy between how the teacher scored the student and the independent score, a third group might be called in (Peterson & Neill, 1999).

Other potential alternatives include: (Peterson & Neill, 1999)

Performance exams are tests given to all students based on the student accomplishing a certain task like writing an essay or giving an oral presentation.

Proficiency-exit standards combines the previous two alternatives. Under this approach students must meet certain standards in order to be promoted or to graduate. Students are given a choice of several different ways to demonstrate proficiency.

Parent-teacher conferences, exhibitions (science fairs, etc.), report cards, and school quality review teams made up of independent groups that rate the school and its learning environment, are other alternatives that have been tried and adapted by some school districts across the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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