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Evaluation of High Stakes Testing Policy in U.S Education System

Updated on September 3, 2015

The current education system in U.S mandates that students from third to eight grades seat at least one standardized test per year. These standardized tests are referred to as End of Grade exams. The outcomes from these tests have a diverse impact on learners, schools, teachers and school districts. Prior to graduating to high school, students are expected to pass through a number of exams. The score from these tests are also used to rank the specific schools. Schools that perform well are given various incentives including monetary rewards. On the other hand, schools that have a consistent low grades face a number of repercussions from both the state and national government. These repercussions includes being forced to offer tutorship, complete restructuring or transportation to other schools (Barksdale , and Thomas ,2013). These and other consequences are what typify the high stakes testing policy. This paper will address the general impact of these education systems. It is organized as follows; the first part is introduction, followed by as discussion on why this policy was initiated. The third part discussed how this system operates in the education environment while the fourth section presents a critique of this system.

High stakes testing are referred so since the outcomes of such tests are very important for a person’s life. The outcome of these tests determines whether one will achieve a high school certificate, grading of a particular school, withholding of funding or having students with low grades repeat class. Results from high stakes tests are regularly published and broadcast by local media, creating a range of reactions from various stakeholders.

Politicians, only acting on emotion and having inefficient and congruent information have de-humanized the school system by implementing an education system that is one size fits and authoritarian in nature. The U.S department of education is responsible for implementing the high stakes tests and NCLB act and data from such tests are used to decide the fate of learners, teachers and districts. In essence, the high stakes policy has led to the de-habilitation of both the psychological and physical health of learners, teachers and administrators. The present education system in the country need to be checked and revised to discourage rot learning where students only “learn for the test”.

Why the High Stakes Testing Policy Was Implemented

The high stakes testing policy has its roots in 1980 when a commission by the Reagan Administration issued a report on the country’s education systems. The commission had recommendation the introduction of such a system to improve the quality of education in the country. According to the report, many public schools across Unites States were failing since they did not have a rigorous testing standard. Moreover, the report also attached the criteria of promoting learners using social standards. A campaign was initiated by the Business Roundtable BRT to return the extant curriculum to the basics including the phonics. This required schools not only to meet high standards but also to be held accountable for what they do. The reforms were to be under the stewardship of experts derived from the business world and who had a good understanding of the economy (Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, and Ness, 2008).

The first state to inaugurate the high stakes testing in America was Lousiana, which consequently appointed the School Accountability Advisory Committee. However, this was followed by harsh consequences. The targets for testing were fourth and eighth graders and students who did not pass these exams were forced to repeat classes. Schools that did not perform to expectations were sanctioned with drastic measures. Few years later, over ten states were promoting students to the next grade based on standardized test scores. By 2008, 25 states required learners to have passed a statewide test in graduating. Additionally, schools that were low performing faced various sanctions and penalties (Johnson and Johnson, 2008).

How the High Stakes Testing is Used

Through standardized testing systems, educators are required to maintain and improve test scores for students and their respective schools. Most teachers employ a curriculum and teaching activities that are skill and test oriented. Moreover, classes are elongated in order to ensure that teachers cover enough before exam period. Classes and lesson are tailored towards test and skills oriented programs such as vocabulary worksheets. Other teaching methods that are commonly used by teachers include focusing on multiple questions, which is given preference against other teaching methods. Regular teaching methods such as creative projects and open responses are commonly ignored. These and many other strategies are driven by the need of these schools to improve their rankings. This is an illustration of how high stakes policy is affecting (Education Week, 2012).

Some schools have implemented the MAP, Measure of Academic Progress, which is an evaluation program, which is offered by outside entity. MAP increased its market when its endeavors raised positively raised the scores of other schools. MAP provides mock like examinations halfway through the school year. The guidelines and test results by MAP are consequently used by educators to adapt their curriculum in meeting the needs of students. When the testing nears, teachers do not teach new materials, and instead focus on preparing for the new tests. This method has been termed as being effective in raising students test scores. Further, the performances of students are indicated in data and graphs, which are then used to tailor the system according to needs. The emphasis on quantitative development and data has changed how classes in many states are taught. Educators are focused on using a standardized curriculum rather than adapting the teaching and learning to meet the current events and needs of students. In other words, the high stakes testing system has completely altered the teaching methods (Education Week, 2012).

A critical Analysis of the High Stakes Testing Policy


Majority of proponents of this testing system argues that this system has been effective in motivating both teachers and learners to work hard. In particular, standardization of tests in the country’s education system will hold all students, teachers and school into high learning and teaching standards. This system also creates awareness that the proficient of students in mathematics and literacy determines the success of these students both in the school and on the employment sector (Murnane and Levy, 1996).

There are also other critics who post that policies, which are aimed at improving learning and teaching, have a potential of benefitting minority students, language students and those with disabilities more than other learners. Further, this system is hoped at ending low track classes whereby minority students such as Africans, Latinos and those whose language is not English who receive poor education. This reasoning is based on the fact that placing students in low track classes is harmful to students educationally. Additionally, learners will earn more if they are placing in classes that are more demanding.

Failures of these programs

Various studies have documented that the use of high stakes testing in the current system of education has carried an adverse negative influence to learners. It has also been accompanied by a wide gap on income, ethnic or racial groups. This has instigated cheating among these learners and teachers as a way of meeting the learning goals. According to CReATE (2012), the implication of high stakes testing does not only affect students, but educators and parents as well. Researchers have challenged the reliability, validity, efficiency and the ethics involved in using high stakes testing score as a means of assessing the educators. Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), argued that “there is no sufficient evidence systems of assessments that incorporate the learner’s test results as being beneficial to student achievement. Further, this aspect will incentivize teachers to use any means in achieving high-test scores. The teachers will also try to avoid students with disabilities, those with health or psychological issues because they presume that these will waste a lot of their time. According to research findings, growth measures for learners are not ideal in identifying with proper consistency and accuracy over on the effectiveness of a teacher.

A study by McCabe (2009) for instance found out that the rate of academic dishonesty in America was quite high. Among the excuses given for such behaviors were meeting the high academic targets, ignorance, personal hardships to the assumption that no one had been victimized from cheating. Aside with this claims, studies have revealed that the repercussions for cheating are immense than merely being caught.

McCrosky and Young (2011), in “Ethos and credibility” explain that students who tend to cheat and get away develop a tendency of cheating. As they continue to consistently cheat, their cheating is rationalized within them as a matter of easing their conscience. This study’s findings shows that learners who depended on cheating valued grades for the matter of grades themselves and not really for education which they are expected to claim. Further, the ethical shortcomings which cheating students harbored could develop long into their adulthood.

Theoretical Perspective

Social Conflict

Social conflict was a theory, which was postulated by Karl Mark. According to this theory, a society harbors different classes of people. Further, these classes can be categorized into two major groups: the poor vs, the wealth. According to this theory, the wealthy employs their power and authority in oppressing the poor. In the perspective of this theory, the different groups within a capitalist society have a tendency of interacting in a negative way. A part from this interaction allowing little cooperation, it does not also create a mutual benefit (Dobb, 1971).

Similarly, high stakes testing has tended to cause a social rift within the society. The rich can always find the best schools for their children as well as the best resources available. Schools are the arena where some students fail. A failure in school is the determinant of what life one will live out there. Although it may be believed that failure may be lack of one’s effort or merit, there is a close relationship between failures in school and the structures inherent within the class and racial inequality.

On the other hand, the system may be said to have streamlined the social biases that had been intertwined with racial and ethnic classes. This occurs in the sense that the education carried out under a standardized curriculum irrespective of the place or school.

Planned Behavior Theory

The theory on planned behavior may be effective here in providing clarity to the association of the relation of different antecedents to behaviors related to academic cheating. According to this theory, the intent in engaging in a specific behavior is influenced by various factors. These included, but not limited to, the perceptions concerning the particular behavior, the expectations and values associated with such behavior, and the perceived level of difficulty in such a behavior (Stone et al., 2010).

The attitude of students concerning academic cheating may owe to intended or unintended communication from the parents, the community culture and beliefs that do not take into consideration school ethics. It is this communication or lack of it that create an attitude to students that academic dishonesty is permissible as a way of meeting expectations. Apparently, the beliefs of students regarding academic cheating and the ethical impact could be affected by the intended or unintended communication by the student’s peers, parents, school and the communities. This may increase the urge for these students to employ various methods in academic cheating. The planned behavior theory explains why academic dishonesty is rampant and also how the negative effects of this behavior spreads far beyond the walls of the school.

Hidden Curriculum

There is some evidence from studies articulating that the high stakes tests have generated a hidden curriculum. For instance, educators are placing more emphasis on math and English subjects, as well as those subjects, which are counting towards the No Child Left Behind scheme. Further, much time is spent on theoretical concepts at the expense physical activities and other aspects of schooling. In most cases, subjects that are not tested are sidelined. The curriculum is therefore not fully implemented.


The high stakes testing system presenting both opportunities and risks to students. Students of color, those with disabilities and language learners are among those who could benefit from the system. In another perspective, the students could also be at risk, particularly in places that administer high stakes graduation and promotion tests. What should be noted however is that it may not be possible to educate all students to the same level. In addition, there is no society that has ever achieved that.

Moreover, achieving that objective is no simple matter. The desirability and necessity of high stakes testing is questionable. Nonetheless, there is one clear thing, that if high stakes testing should go on, then it is important that they are done well. States that do not adhere to the basic principles of these testing are certainly putting students at risk as well as themselves.

Despite high stakes testing system ensuring that, teachers use a standardized curriculum as well as ensuring accountability, the negative effect derived from such a system cannot be overlooked. It is therefore important for policy makers to reexamine this policy about its pros and cons. So far, this system has not effectively solved the education challenges inherent in our country.


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