Achievement tests are used to test knowledge and developed skill. Some examples of the tests include: curriculum-based evaluation, standardize test, portfolio-based, and dynamic assessment approaches. Commonly, a standardized test is used with the aim of measuring knowledge and skills learned or obtained in a given grade level. These tests normally do not measure aptitude or cognitive traits, but rather knowledge learned through classroom instructions, planned instructions or training. Scores on achievement test are used in schools or education systems in determining the preparedness of the student for the instructions and what was trained. High scores of achievement indicate a perfect mastery of content in the particular grade-level, and the inclination for complex instruction (Darling, 2010, p. 72). However, low scores in achievement indicate the urgent need for repeating that particular course grade.
Achievement tests also assess students’ proficiency. This is the adequate amount of skill and knowledge of the grade being tested that the student has progressively acquired until the testing. Improved teaching practices can augment the total amount learned, and leading to more achievement scores, therefore creating more proficient students. When writing items on achievement tests, a detailed list of relevant content standards is begun with, that denotes precisely what learners are expected and required to learn (Newmann, 2007, p. 48). The main aim is to establish test items which measure the very important knowledge or skills obtained in a particular grade-level. The type and number of those test items are influenced by the content standards of that grade-level. The items representativeness on the very final test given determines content validity.
Achievement testing has a long history and has been long used in measuring competency levels. In the early 1800s, Mann Horace pioneered the idea of using academic exams in schools from Boston to acquire crucial objective information on teaching and learning quality in schools, compare teachers and schools, and also monitor the instruction quality. His tests discovered variations in knowledge of the students and more testing was executed so as to ascertain on the advancement of learners. Because of the test’s success, they were adopted in the country by all schools. In the 1st World War, the Army in U.S. needed a fast method for spotting out potential talented officers from many recruits. Robert Yerkes and Arthur Otis developed an effective Alpha test on the Armies, and particularly gauged the mental capabilities of a soldier (Ravitch, 2011, p. 55). This became a timeless model for future used standardized tests. Student tracking with the help of standardized tests was commonly practiced from the 1920s. Testing was used to assess the quality of instructions in schools. Standardized testing popularity heightened during the 2nd World War and the period of the historical Cold War. The very initial federal laws to be passed demanding the application of effective standardized tests was in the year 1965. The Secondary Education and Elementary Act, channeled funds into schools and in return the schools had to show that the money was used well through appealing quantifiable results (Ikpa, & McGuire, 2009, p. 40). Therefore, it expected schools to give the scores of standardized test so that they could obtain federal funding.
Civil rights campaigners declared standardized tests biased. The activists suggested that the assessments reinforced economic and social disparities. Despite the extensive application of testing competencies, standardized testing did not impact on the widespread teaching methods. However, this changed when educational accountability proved indispensable. The students’ performance made the school administrators and teachers to be held accountable. Therefore, in order to improve the score, sometimes the curricula had to be changed to align it to the standardized test.
Scholastic aptitude test substituted the commonly used essay test in the year 1962 in examination, leading to an increased use of the standardized tests in America as a means of evaluation. The purposes of achievement testing include: diagnosing of students weaknesses and strengths, assigning grades in order to compare with those of others, achievement testing greatly helps in the assessment of competency levels, curriculum evaluation, accountability, achieve promotion, and for informational purposes. That was how achievement testing came into being incorporated into the education system all over the world.
The measurement issue in achievement testing sparks a lot of controversy. This is the concern that the tests are biased and cannot be used as the best method to determine the capabilities of a student. These tests, such as the standardized test, use multiple choice. This by measuring the learning outcomes limits the creativity of the students and only leaves the teachers to teach to the test, but not to equip the learner for the future. Standardized testing impacts the curriculum taught in learning institutions, this is seen by how teachers train their students, it reduces the meaningful nature of learning, making school a narrower and limited educational experience. This form of measurement limits learning and teaching of the set shallow standards already existing, leaving the learner with inadequate skills in problem solving, creative and critical thinking, among others.
Another issue in the measurement of achievement testing is the lack of enough diversity. This could be attributed in the form of: cultural, socioeconomic classes, gender and language difference. These factors might act as a barrier for high scores or achievement in a test. High-stakes assessments disadvantages are that they show biasness to all students. This is very true because the creators of those particular tests purposefully select items that will eventually establish score spread rather than items that actually measure what was taught at school. The greatest proof for a test bias appears to be the results. Data supporting this measurement issue shows the disparities in the median score, distinctively for African-American’s on SAT being 200 points less than European-American learners. There is a long-standing gender gap seen in math scores on the SAT, ladies having dismal scores, which is very depressing. Standardized tests do not take seriously knowledge acquisition, this is because it never test intricate thinking skills. These issues occur due to the set state standards, tend to be externally obliged on teachers. With that kind of mandatory assessments, failure is inevitable unless teachers accept and understand the philosophical foundation of standards.
Examples of some common standardized achievement assessments include; the (CAT); (CTBS), or "Terra Nova"; ITBS; TAP; MAT and SAT (Clauss, 2008, p. 18). These test results are distinguished and compared across grades and ages statistically, in order to establish a mean for each age and grade established which tend to be the grade and age equivalent scores allocated to individuals. However, the standardized test is good because there is minimal human error; this is due to the reliability of multiple choices. They are also practical and not time consuming. Although it sparks out some controversies in the measurement credibility, it is simple to recognize problems and initiate reform or change. These problems and weaknesses are easily spotted on students, school, class and even district level. With the simplicity of spotting problems, there arises an accountability aspect for teachers, students and all involved in the system.
In psychology and education, achievement testing relates to the concerns that are raised of its accountability and measurement credibility. From a psychological point of view, achievement testing can do more harm than expected, good due to its nature of comparing the scores. Since it averages the school’s performance, it might cause a negative attitude to arise from the public if a school lags behind in performance. Since teachers are blamed and thought to be the reason for the school’s failure, a psychological torment can engulf the teachers and further demoralize them to levels that can even impact to their health and overall performances. Students are gifted and talented differently, so the negative side of achievement testing is making the individuals feel incapable and foolish. It can also give a false impression if intelligence because it limits itself to some subjects as an overall measure. Reduction in self-esteem and confidence can be badly damaged, whereas the individual can do much greater in another field and still be an achiever (Paris et. al, 2009, p. 19).
Achievement tests can bar someone’s wish to proceed in their educational levels because if one fails the test, no progression is allowed. This can be very demoralizing and a negative attitude may crop out on education. Mitigating these negative impacts of achievement tests is required in order to maintain the desired outcomes of education and help in the overall development of the individual. The curriculum should not only focus on some few subjects, but rather, should include talent development, and other tests to cater for the whole-roundness of every student. The mode of teaching also needs to completely have a paradigm shift from the usual memorizing of information in order to pass the exams, to understand and invoke critical thinking and problem solving skills (McClelland, 2008, p. 33). Education and learning should also favor the psychological aspects of human wellbeing, therefore, the tests given should act as a basis to work hard and feel motivated in order to gain more knowledge, it should be aimed to be a transformative learning. The idea of doing a test is to measure the knowledge levels and should not be a humiliation endeavor of proving to students how foolish they are. Therefore, the test should be in line with what has been taught, also, failures should not be sidelined, but encouraged and helped to pass the future tests.
The problem can also be mitigated by achievement tests to assess a student's capacity to remember concepts and skills for the subject or grade tested. Since every student's mark or achievements are compared to the other students, the results of these tests can confirm to teachers and trainers where learning gaps are, either between student subgroups or one grade to another. Having this kind of valuable information, trainers can point out every student's strengths and where they are poor at and fine-tune instruction with the aim of closing such learning gaps in the massive student populations (Baker, 2008, p. 23). The government should spearhead efforts of refining the curriculum and allowing the massive research done on achievement tests to be discussed and the relevant alterations and implementation to be conducted. The learners also have a crucial part to play in problem solving by being more inquisitive to the teachers in a manner suggesting the enthusiasm of acquiring more knowledge.
Achievement testing methods such as standardized testing in schools will most likely persist to be a contentious issue among educators in America and other parts of the planet. The amplified adaptation of standardized testing as a method of testing achievement at all levels in education and in varied subjects has exposed many limitations, as well as strongholds. The external and internal components of politicians, schools, students, business community, educators, and parents, have a collective and significant function in establishing an efficient curriculum that regulates and balances the individual needs with the greater community requirements (Walberg, 2007, p. 61). Educators should therefore find a better way to prudently apply test scores so as to evaluate and advance curriculum, and increase the learning opportunities in students. Thus, a balance should be observed between learning, and accurate and fair evaluation methods.
Achievement testing as evaluated in the essay has both its success and problems. It is therefore the work of the teacher to ensure that the tests are credible and have the capacity to evaluate the progress of the students. The problems associated with achievement testing both in educational and psychological dimensions should take a multi-stakeholder holistic approach in identifying and mitigating the problems. For a better future of education, more involving assessment methods should be established in order to build capacity to the learner because ‘education is the key’.
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Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books.
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