If you have worked in any area of education, you know the anxiety and frustration that comes with standardized testing. And yet somehow standardized testing has become the measure for student learning and for teacher effectiveness.
But, we need to ask ourselves, should this be the case? Do standardized tests show a true measure of student learning or intelligence? Are standardized tests equitable and accessible for ALL students?
What Does Equitable and Accessible Mean?
I think it is important that we define what is meant by ‘equitable’ and ‘accessible’ first.
Equitable means to be fair and impartial. When you use this term to refer to standardized tests, we are really talking about the information included in test questions. Test questions typically do not take into consideration backgrounds and cultures that are non-white. Because of this many students will get questions incorrect not because they do not know the material but because they did not understand the information or the question.
Accessible means all can reach or access something. For testing, this means that all students have access to a form of the test that they can take. This is mainly in regards to students with various disabilities. Standardized tests need to be accessible for students who may have vision, hearing, dexterity, or processing issues.
How do Standardized Test Lack Equity
Inequity in schools is a bigger issue than just testing. If there is equity among schools, this means that schools are given the resources they need in order to be successful. This is different from equality. Equality means that all schools are given the exact same supports and resources. However, not every school needs the same supports to be successful.
These resources and supports are all necessary to help prepare students to be successful on standardized tests and in the future.
Since a large part of school funding comes from local taxes, this means that schools in low income areas do not get or have access to large amounts of funding. Some funding is also dependent on the results of standardized tests. This creates a cycle of a lack of funding and low test scores that is difficult to get out of.
This inequity can also be seen in the types of test questions.
As was mentioned above, not all test questions or passages take into consideration a variety of cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Because of this, not all students will understand the verbage used in certain questions. How can we expect a student to correctly answer a test question if they have no context for the questions being asked? How can a student correctly answer a test question if they have no means of connecting with or comprehending the text or the question?
How do Standardized Test Lack Accessibility?
Over the past several years, and especially this past 2020 school year, many standardized tests are now being administered on a computer. This has been great news for those with disabilities and how they can access tests. Computer tests allow for more accommodations like read aloud, write in book (so students can highlight or strike through answer choices), extended time, and a variety of formatting options.
However, not all schools, counties, or states have the technology available or have made the transition to computer testing.
This means that standardized tests, on paper, have to be adjusted to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. This could mean a different format or version of the test or a different testing setting. These accommodations take time to make and plan for as well as resources to provide them. These are things that many schools do not have access to or funding for.
As with testing and equity, some of the issues with accessibility also come even before the standardized test. There tends to be a lack of quality or quantity of exceptional children teachers. Because of this, these students are not getting the adequate preparations for testing.
Here, we again, potentially get into this cycle of low funding because of low test scores and low test scores because of a lack of funding and resources.
This means that students with disabilities do not always have access to the materials and resources they need to learn what they will be tested on.
The Original Question
So let’s go back to the question we started with…
Is standardized testing equitable and accessible for ALL students?
This time I emphasized the word all. I did this because all implies that every single student in America has the same access and equity when it comes to standardized tests, and we cannot say that that is a true statement.
This can mean equity in the content and wording of test questions.
This can mean accessibility to tests that accommodate for specific physical and learning disabilities that students face.
This can mean equity in the access to resources provided to students to prepare for and take standardized tests.
So American schools are not there yet, but there is hope. As strides to create equality, equity, and accessibility are happening in society, I feel we will begin to see a change within schools.
Teachers all over the country are finding larger platforms to spread the word about how they are making changes in their classrooms to be more inclusive and equitable. These changes that are being made at the classroom level will begin to trickle upwards and eventually change education policies.
Until then, we need to be teaching young people how to advocate for themselves. How to ask questions when they don’t understand or when they need help.
Because, those students who are living through some of these times in school will be the ones to later on make lasting changes to the education system.