ERIC Identifier: ED338445
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Perrone, Vito
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
On Standardized Testing. ERIC Digest.
In 1976, ACEI issued a position paper calling for a moratorium on
standardized testing in the early years of school (ACEI and Perrone). Although
pressure to test continued in the late 1970s, there was also vigorous debate
about negative effects of testing. Support for more authentic forms of
assessment, rooted in close observation and systematic documentation of
children's learning, became more common. But in 1983, after the publication of A
NATION AT RISK, the climate changed dramatically. Testing programs expanded
greatly, especially in kindergarten and primary grades. The results have been
deleterious, particularly for poor and minority children.
While standardized tests are problematic at all ages and levels of schooling,
they are especially questionable in primary grades. In these years, children's
growth is most uneven, and in large measure idiosyncratic. Skills needed for
school success are in their most fluid stages. Implications of failure in these
years can be devastating. A moratorium is more necessary now than it was in
1976. It is time for teachers, school administrators and parents to say more
forcefully than ever that testing in the primary years must end and testing
thereafter must be reduced.
SOME HARD QUESTIONS ABOUT STANDARDIZED TESTING
How many of
us really believe that a child's intelligence, achievement, and competence can
be represented adequately by standardized tests? Do we believe that any
distribution curve is capable of classifying all children? Such beliefs would
defy almost everything we understand about children's growth and responses to
educational encounters. Upon reflection, few teachers and parents would accept
that a single test score can define any child. The composition of a test can be
examined with such questions as: Are the questions clear? Do they address the
educational concerns of teachers or parents? Do they provide useful information
about individual children or a class? That teachers and parents can offer so few
positive responses to these questions surely suggests problems with the tests
and the emphasis placed on them.
In contrast, almost all teachers respond affirmatively to the following
questions: Do you feel any pressure to teach to the tests? If the test were not
given, would you use fewer skill sheets, workbooks and other simple response
pedagogical materials? The tests clearly limit educational possibilities for
THE TESTS AND THEIR USES
While many of the prekindergarten
tests are of the paper and pencil variety, most have a more individual,
performance-oriented quality. Results of these "screening" tests are often the
basis for cautioning parents to "wait another year before starting your child in
kindergarten." They are also used as a means of "early identification" of
individuals who need special assistance, according to the preschool screeners.
Although there is scant evidence that such early screening is beneficial, it has
become almost universal.
Children typically receive their first paper and pencil test, which
ostensibly gauges reading readiness, in kindergarten. Those who score in the
bottom quartile are encouraged or required to spend another year in
kindergarten, or are placed in a K-1 transitional setting that often leads to
later retention. The rationale is that children benefit from the knowledge
teachers gain from the test. Yet, teachers gain little important knowledge from
The tests used in the majority of school districts have expanded in their
purposes. For example, children's scores now determine whether they will be
placed in a gifted and talented program or become eligible for special tutoring.
Results of annual achievement tests also determine eligibility for enrichment
programs, special classes, and the like. Tests are used to determine a student's
academic level. They become the basis for early tracking and then ongoing
tracking. In recent years, test results have been increasingly used to determine
whether a child should advance from one grade to another.
If tests play a significant role in grade advancement or are the primary
basis for a school's so-called accountability, teachers feel compelled to spend
considerable time preparing children to take the tests. In such cases, the tests
become the school curriculum. Preparation usually begins many weeks before
actual testing. During this period, two to three hours a day are often devoted
to practicing tests and related exercises, all alien to the ongoing instruction
and the usual student response patterns. Teachers readily acknowledge that
questions in the practice exercises, which are similar to those on the real
test, are trivial. Moreover, the possible responses contain words that children
likely have never seen and certainly don't use. By the time the three days of
real testing are over, weeks, sometimes months, have passed. Time for real books
has been sacrificed for time spent reading isolated paragraphs and answering
multiple-choice questions. Time has been spent not on posing problems for which
math might be used, and in the process coming to a natural understanding of math
concepts, but on reviewing skills such as addition, subtraction, and
division--all in isolation.
Reasons for caution in the use of tests include the possible loss of
children's self-esteem; the distortion of curriculum, teaching and learning; and
the lowering of expectations. Other concerns relate to the tests themselves. For
example, tests used in grades 1 and 2 are different from those used in grades
3-6. The early tests depend on pictures and vocabulary, while later tests place
greater stress on content. Consequently, high scores in early testing may not
carry over to later testing.
Because tests include diverse subject areas, they may or may not relate
directly to what children have been taught or evoke children's interest. In
addition, the multiple-choice format of standardized tests confuses many
children who are not accustomed to it. Children who have been routinely
encouraged to be cooperative learners are forbidden to talk during testing.
Children who have been taught to work problems out slowly are told speed is
When children are labeled UNREADY or SLOW LEARNERS because of standardized
test results, their educational opportunities generally become narrow and
unchallenging. One-dimensional tasks such as those found in skill sheets and
drills figure prominently in these children's education. A high proportion of
the children in special education and lower-level tracks come from lower
socioeconomic populations, including large numbers of minorities.
ACEI strongly believes that no standardized testing should occur in the
preschool and K-2 years. Further, ACEI strongly questions the need for testing
every child in the remainder of the elementary years. The National Commission on
Testing and Public Policy recently reached the same position. The National
Association for the Education of Young Children has also called for an end to
CENTRALITY OF THE TEACHER IN CLASSROOM-BASED
Increasingly, teachers are making it clear that they know how to
address accountability issues through good documentation of children's actual
work. One sees the result most clearly in the area of writing, which represents
the most serious break yet in the power of standardized testing. Those concerned
about writing in the schools argue convincingly that writing cannot be assessed
with validity outside the instructional process and that writing to a real
audience is central. Further, they assert that writing at its best is not easily
standardized in current psychometric or technological terms. An understanding of
a child's writing cannot begin with one task, a single piece of work, or writing
that has not been completed within the norms of classroom practice. Such writing
isn't likely to bring forth the student's most committed efforts.
An understanding of children's writing leads educators to carefully organized
classroom documentation. For example, teachers systematically preserve copies of
both drafts and finished pieces of a student's writing. Two or three pieces a
month provide a reasonable collection. Periodic review of this writing informs a
teacher's ongoing efforts to help particular students. At year's end, the
chronologically organized accumulation is subjected to a careful review, with
some of the following questions serving as a framework: What are the salient
features and dominant motifs of the work? How much invention does it show? What
connections to academic and social strengths are in evidence? How much diversity
of word use is there?
The classroom setting and the teacher are
central to an assessment program that is rooted in carefully organized and
considered documentation. Authentic, performance-based assessment guarantees an
increased understanding of the growth of individual children. Such an
understanding reduces the need for currently used standardized testing programs.
All testing of young children in preschool and grades K-2 and the practice of
testing every child in the later elementary years should cease. To continue such
testing in the face of so much evidence of its deleterious effects is the height
This digest was adapted from a position paper of the Association for
Childhood Education International by Vito Perrone, "On Standardized Testing,"
which appeared in CHILDHOOD EDUCATION (Spring, 1991): 132-142.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Association for Childhood Education
International/Perrone, V. "Position Paper. On Standardized Testing." CHILDHOOD
EDUCATION, 67 (1991), 132-142.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. TESTING OF YOUNG
CHILDREN: CONCERNS AND CAUTIONS.. Washington DC: Author, 1988.
National Commission on Testing and Public Policy. FROM GATEKEEPERS TO
GATEWAY: TRANSFORMING TESTING IN AMERICA. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College,