Low reporting student ability levels for a mass population.
Low stakes, diagnostic standardised testing can be beneficial from an Less Economically Developed Country’s(LEDC) perspective. In several of these countries, public education is largely inefficient due to underpaid and under-qualified staff, with the lack of nationalised data on student ability making the situation even worse. Due to this, the government is able to ignore such issues, unable to collect reliable information on it. In this sense, standardised testing is greatly beneficial in public reporting student ability levels for a mass population. The very public nature of this has provided countries with incentive to improve, as demonstrated by the the reaction to the results of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an multinational assessment on student aptitude.
For example, this report by OECD—the French organisation administering PISA—shows Germany’s responsiveness to low test scores in 2001, which resulted in a paradigm shift in their educational policy. Previously regarding themselves as educational leaders, the government regarded this low ranking as a sign to rewrite the educational system, and proceeded to do so by increasing educational spending and training staff. As a result, their rankings have substantially improved over the next decade. Reported by the PISA administrators, the provenance is strong. Furthermore, as the test assesses analytical and critical thinking skills, with questions created by experts, it is one of the more accurate measures of aptitude. Due to this fact, one can infer that Germany’s trust in the test to inform policy has positively influenced learning. However, one must note that this practise is only successful when the test accurately measures ability, and therefore cannot be applied universally. Furthermore, the fact that Germany is a developed country with a strong economy allows itself to implement such policy successfully, so the implications may not be the same for a developing country.
However, with the absence of diagnostic testing in these developing countries As Economics doctorate Justin Sandefur argues, the exclusion of many LEDC’s in the PISA program has only given their governments the leeway to hide their crisis. He goes on to detail the ways NGO’s like ASER have stepped in to gather data through standardised testing, making the information of the educational failure public. Sandefur’s tone is neutral, and his use of graphs to show the impact of these surveys makes his argument stronger with concrete information. Furthermore, he demonstrates their limitations by noting the lack of improvement in reading or writing since the introduction of the tests. While this is true, ASER’s findings have been taken into account by the government in their educational policy making, showing scope for long term improvement. Therefore, while standardised testing themselves may not improve education in a developing country, the information a diagnostic one provides can certainly inform a path to positive change, benefiting a country’s society in the long run.
Standardised aptitude testing also benefits low income high achievers(note that this does not refer to low income students overall), as it is the only form of assessment that compares all students’ ability against the same scale without any discrimination.This is especially important when it comes to university applications, which place large importance on test scores. As grade boundaries and teacher quality differ largely depending on school funding, standardised testing serves as the best way to compare student ability by universities. Due to this, they need not separate low income form high income achievers, giving them an equal opportunity of admission with respect to ability. Furthermore, high test scores also qualify low income students for several scholarships, increasing the chance of them attending university. Therefore, for these students, standardised tests present themselves as an opportunity to break the poverty barrier.
A report by the Equality of Opportunity project demonstrates how the opportunity to attend a selective university impacts these students’ future. It samples over 30 million people in the US from 1980 to 2013, examining how likely students from the bottom 20% of the income ladder are to able reach the top 20% or even 1%. It first refers to the participants’ incomes, comparing it with their parents’. It then correlates the difference with their choice of college, looking for a pattern. This method of collection makes the information very reliable, which is done further due to its large sample size and time period.
It goes on to report that the low income student who go on to attend selective colleges have more than a 50% chance of getting into the 20% income bracket. This means that these students are very likely to overcome the poverty barrier. Through thorough analysis of both these selective colleges and other colleges that enrol a high number of low income students, they present this positive correlation between low income achievement and income in a balanced manner. Written by experts from reputed universities, the provenance is also strong. However, one must note that the study is within the US, so its worldwide application is more limited. At the same time, as most universities worldwide rely on some form of test score for admission, a similar outcome can be expected in attending similar one regardless of location.
Considering that this opportunity is presented due to the lack of income barrier in achievement, standardised testing enables low income achievers to attend more selective universities, gain scholarships, and in the end earn a high income that would benefit the economy. Furthermore, their success would also inspire others in their society to follow their path, creating a positive impact.
However, while standardised testing in beneficial in some ways, it does possess some fundamental flaws that make it detrimental in other perspectives. As every individual is unique, it is impossible to measure the ability of a mass population on one scale accurately. Therefore, any decision taken from the results is also inaccurate. This inefficiency in assessment is made further by the fact that there are several variables other than ability that affect the result, like income, race, gender, or even test anxiety. Increased reliance on something so subjective leads to several consequences.
For both teachers and schools, high stakes standardised testing appears to be a source of anxiety and negatively impacts their wellbeing. This perspective on teachers is expressed in a report by the Education Law and Policy(US). Published as a paper by professors teaching an education course, the provenance is strong. Furthermore, the paper details multiple reasons in depth for the negative effects of high stakes testing, showing that they have considered a variety of possibilities. The report details that over 70% of the teachers had to reduce teaching time in another subject in order to prepare for standardised testing. A clever anecdote personalises it by detailing the dismay of a teacher whose science experiment had to be stopped mid way in order to prepare for standardised testing. By directly showing the impact on one of the teachers, one can expect the effect to be multiplied with every extra teacher. Therefore, the report is highly effective in making a non expert understand their plight.
A similar stance is expressed from the Finnish perspective. With a small population and low income inequality, Finland has been a pioneer in teacher led education, made possible by their culture of respect for learning and educators.
In a Guardian article, Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg demonstrates how, due to increased standardised testing in Australia, teachers feel more dissatisfied and controlled. By interweaving solutions from the Finnish system like greater teacher autonomy and creativity, Sahlberg maintains a balance with the positive and negative. In the article, he explains how Australian teachers often criticise the system, but are unable to change it due to their lack of control, also implying the increasing pressure that both teachers and parents put on getting high test scores. His expertise makes the provenance strong, and while he does not explain the effects of decreased teacher autonomy, he presents tested and strong solutions to the problem, strengthening his argument.
Examples of these can be seen worldwide, as French and British teachers protest against the increasing prevalence of high stakes testing. For teachers, their dissatisfaction is understandable. Having to impart knowledge to their own class, each one of them would have liked to do it their own way. With the introduction of high stakes standardised testing, they feel pressured to perform and get results, with the method of doing so perhaps in conflict with their own philosophy. This lack of autonomy leads to lower job satisfaction, leading to some of them leaving. In more dire cases, this may even lead to a ‘brain drain’ in the profession, demonstrating how detrimental high stakes testing is to society. Furthermore, due to this pressure, many of these teachers and school reduce time spent on non tested subjects like the social sciences or art, overall being detrimental to a student’s holistic development.
High stakes standardised testing can also be detrimental to student welfare. This, while seen worldwide, is experienced more acutely in East Asian countries. This is mainly due to their culture of discipline and excellence, valuing hard work and efficiency. The main cause for this attitude is the harsh conditions the people have had to face generations ago, leaving behind this ingrained survival instinct. In academic terms, this has to lead emphasis on tangible achievement. As these are mainly measured through exams, a culture of high pressure is created around this, facilitated by parents, students and schools alike.
A report by the South China Morning Post demonstrates the disturbing effect this has had on such students. While based in in hong Kong, the paper quotes experts from several East Asian countries, making the view balanced. According to it, adolescent suicides are on the rise in Singapore due to the pressure of receive a high enough score to qualify for an ‘express’ secondary school—the most academically rigorous division. According to a former primary school teacher, this is mainly due to parental pressure to perform, which leads to attending tuitions up to 11pm. With this constant focus on academic achievement and sleep deprivation, student mental health is bound to plummet. While his expertise comes from first hand a experience, his tone of bitterness might have clouded his judgement.
Jamie Jisson, another expert quoted in the article, makes a more credible source, being an Australian based expert in education. Believing that the act of segregating students based on test scores and placing high stakes on them only causes stress, she explains how increasing values on test scores only narrows one’s perspective on learning. While using examples and a conversational tone, she balances the article by using specialist language. The article, overall, maintains a balance between expert opinions, anecdotes, and quoting facts. The diversity in information quoted, along with examples on student stress from multiple countries makes it effective in portraying the detrimental effects of testing on students.
With high stakes standardised testing putting pressure on students to demonstrate their entire potential on one day in one style, the pressure felt is expected. From a South East Asian perspective, this pressure is only made worse due to parental and cultural expectations. Student anxiety disorder levels have reached around 30% in Singapore, while stress, suicide and lack of self worth are also on the rise. As a successful society takes into account not just economic but also citizen wellbeing, a stressed out, constricted population has ultimately detrimental effects.