High-stakes testing is a phenomenon widely discussed in the literature. According to Natriello (2009), high-stakes tests (HSTs) are standardized student achievement tests used to assess the academic performance of students, teachers, and schools. These tests were designed to help the government decide the form of punishment, reward, and compensation it wants to implement towards a particular educational institution. The idea behind HSTs was to encourage students, educators, and school administrators to make the necessary personal or organizational changes to improve the scores (Ritt, 2016).
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However, the implementation of high-stakes testing remains one of the most arguable innovations of the education reform in the US. In particular, Natriello (2009) claims that HSTs transformed the learning process into studying for tests. Moreover, Ritt (2016) adds that HSTs test anxiety among students, loss of creativity in the curriculum, and increased stress of teachers. While the negative side of the phenomenon cannot be ignored, it is vital to acknowledge the positive changes HSTs brought.
The fact that education shifted to teaching for the test rather than improving knowledge is confirmed by numerous studies, and it is, indeed, a faulty practice. However, before the emergence of HSTs, the government was forced to monitor inputs rather than outcomes (Natriello, 2009). Moreover, HSTs allowed the stakeholders to focus on achievement rather than completion. In other words, it is no longer enough to complete a sequence of studies ideally; the students need to demonstrate performance (Natriello, 2009).
Additionally, the push to HSTs allowed policymakers to be confident that “all students are educated to a certain level identified and mandated by the state” (Natriello, 2009, p. 1102). Even though Amrein and Berliner (2002) state that initially, the implementation of HSTs had a slight negative impact on students’ learning, the recent test score increases demonstrate that the unified curriculum made all students receive a standardized level of education.
On the one hand, the advantages of using high-stakes testing for measuring learning are evident. First, the tests provide a unified framework that prevents the assessors’ bias (Natriello, 2009). Second, HSTs help policymakers to monitor outcomes and make necessary interventions timely (Natriello, 2009).
Finally, the HSTs lower the chance of corruption in educators and allow students who live in distant parts of the country to demonstrate their abilities and enter prestigious universities. For instance, after the adoption of a unified state examination in Russia, the mobility of students has increased significantly, and the corruption levels decreased (Slonimczyk, Francesconi, & Yurko, 2017). In summary, the utilization of HSTs is advantageous for all stakeholders in the long run.
On the other hand, the disadvantages of HSTs are also considerable. First, the focus falls on subjects and matter, which are tested, and everything else tends to be omitted (Amrein & Berliner, 2002). Second, HSTs cause students’ stress, which may lead to decreased performance (Ritt, 2016). Finally, HSTs do not take into consideration children with special needs and English language learners (Ritt, 2016). These problems are to be addressed to improve the learning outcomes of students.
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In conclusion, the practice of high-stakes testing has both positive and negative sides. However, the analysis demonstrates that the advantages of the practice outweigh its flaws. The shift from measuring inputs to measuring outcomes is vital for shaping an innovative and balanced education system. Therefore, policymakers are to consider modifying the practice according to the feedback from all stakeholders to address its disadvantages and increase its benefits.
Amrein, A. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2002). High-stakes testing & student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Web.
Natriello, G. (2009). High stakes testing and teaching to the test. In: Saha L.J., Dworkin A.G. (Eds.) International handbook of research on teachers and teaching (pp. 1101-1111). Boston, MA: Springer.
Ritt, M. (2016). The impact of high-stakes testing on the learning environment. Web.
Slonimczyk, F., Francesconi, M., & Yurko, A. V. (2017). Moving on up for high school graduates in Russia: The consequences of the unified state exam reform. Web.