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Teacher Interview: Negative Impact of Standardized Tests on Learning

How Standardized Testing Does Not Measure True Learning

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Given the current call for higher educational standards, the public may be shocked to discover the negative impact of standardized achievement tests such as the SAT II on meaningful education.

Each time an election arises in America, the state of education is debated, discussed and dissected. Many states have instituted standardized testing to determine whether schools are performing to a preset standard. For example, in Florida, every school earns a 'grade' based not only on these test scores, but also on other issues such as attendance. Schools which make A's get extra funding. Schools which receive F's have one year to 'shape up' before the state starts offering vouchers to allow students to attend private schools. The important question that must be answered, but unfortunately is often ignored, is what exactly do these standardized tests measure? Because of the high stakes associated with low grades, schools are placed in a predicament which is often solved by 'teaching to the test'. Following is an interview with an instructor who has rebelled against this method, and instead continues to focus on what is really important: authentic learning.

Bob Jacobs is a chemistry teacher at Wilton High School in Wilton, Connecticut. Steadfast in his belief that students should indeed learn to "do science" and his adherence to twenty-one principles of teaching, Jacobs has created a state of the art chemistry program at his school.

According to Wilton, the impact of the SAT II on the high school chemistry curriculum has been particularly destructive. Ironically, negative effects are a consequence of designing the test to measure students studying different chemistry curricula and to do it fairly by combining test items from the many different in-depth chemistry curricula across the nation.

The resulting SAT II Chemistry test has become so broad that students successful in exemplary in-depth chemistry programs are apt to score poorly. They score poorly simply because they haven't the material covered by a different chemistry curriculum. On the other hand, students who memorize information included in many different in-depth courses may score higher even though they haven't learned to use the scientific method, they don't know how to think critically, and they don't understand how to "do science."

In the following pages, you will learn about Wilton's philosophy concerning teaching to higher standards along with why he believes standardized testing does not accurately reflect what students have truly learned.

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