The Value of Assessments

Assessments have become a very hot topic lately. One of the reasons why assessments have come into current educational debate is due to the mandated assessments in the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). It is true that assessments have been used for many years and reasons before the NCLB act of 2001. Despite the current negative feelings toward assessments, they can be a very positive and motivating force in education.

The No Child Left Behind act was not the first attempt to legislate assessment testing. The 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act called for accountability in schools (Lewis & Pett, 2005). The changes of 1994 put into motion the call for better leaders in education which happened in states such as Kentucky, Main, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina and California (Lewis & Pett, 2005). Many other states had bright educators who had great ideas to create better standards based systems (Lewis & Pett, 2005). Like the many cases a lot of states did not receive monetary support or technical support to create better assessments. The NCLB act now requires every state to develop plans for annual progress of all students (Lewis & Pett, 2005). One result of the act has been the doubling of testing at the state level to show improvement. If a school fails to improve that state is required to provide intensive support for the improvement of the failing school and then is in danger of being shut down if not progress is made (Lewis & Pett, 2005).

Many advocates and educators oppose assessments. Scores often reflect the socioeconomic status of the community rather than the quality of the school (Simmons, 2004). Questions on assessment tests often ask information that children from privileged schools would know than from poor backgrounds (Simmons, 2004). Assessments don’t take into account whether a student has had a bad day, if a student is sick or tired (Simmons, 2004). One of the biggest complaints about the motivation towards assessments and standardized tests is the complaint that critical thinking and creativity is hindered (Simmons, 2004). Teaching towards the test is another complaint that is very prevalent in the arguments against assessments. Despite the list of arguments against testing there are many positive results and necessary reasons for assessments. One interesting statistic finds that in 1950, 20% of labor was skilled and 60% was unskilled compared to 2000 where 65% was skilled and 15% was unskilled (Sclafani, 2003). The statistic tell us that expectations are higher everywhere and the new push for higher standards is not isolated to the field of education but to the world of work as well.

Assessments have traditionally been a necessary tool in identifying students for extra help, special needs, and progress reports. For many years assessments have been used to qualify students for special education (Harvey, 2004). Without the ability to assess the students many would not have gotten the special help they would have needed to succeed. Identify students who need special education has resulted in educators being able to created individualized programs and lessons to get a student through required curriculum (Harvey, 2004). Assessments can detect student’s ability, collect data and analyze that data and give teachers and parents an idea about a student’s potential (Watson, 2004). Assessments are a good way to see if curriculum needs to be adjusted for individual students.

Personal experience has taught me that assessments work. I was assessed and placed in speech lab during kindergarten and early elementary school. Today I am one of the most vocal students during a class and have absolutely no qualms about public speaking. One of the reasons why I’m so looking forward to teaching is the fact that I will be able to express myself vocally. If assessments did not exist students would not receive the help needed to improve their performance, confidence and lives.

Assessments are a vital way to gage the quality of education being taught to students. James Buckheit makes his sentiments clear about his theory of assessments “without defining quality and assessing our performance against some measure of it, we can’t determine our real capacity” (2004, p. 19). Assessments make sure that students are learning the information that society deems important to know. Knowledge is the right information learned that can help a person accomplish things; therefore knowledge is empowerment (Buckheit, 2004). Making sure that all children are learning knowledge and the thought process is the only way our civilization can carry on (Buckheit, 2004). Assessments force educators to look at what is being taught, where it is important and making sure that students have well developed programs to prepare them for life in society (Sternberg, 2004). Assessments are necessary for schools to improve their productivity (Buckheit, 2004).

I am in agreement with the assessment of quality. As one can see on the school report cards some schools do better than others. Without assessment no one in the education community would know about these lagging schools. The NCLB act threatens schools who continually underperforming abet the fact that the funding is not there to support those initiatives. The very fact that there is a law though is the first step to creating better schools. Most things usually take time to build up and it is na�¯ve to think that the NCLB act would be perfect in its first few years.

Assessments are a way to ensure that teachers are doing a good job at teaching students the necessary curriculum. NCLB is holding teachers more accountable for plans and strategies that work (Harvey, 2004). Accountability means that teachers can identify students’ specific weaknesses and work to get students up to par with standardized tests (Harvey, 2004). Accountability is often referred to as “yearly progress” (Doran, 2003). This type of accountability ensures that no students fall through the crack and that each and every child is pushed to his or her potential. By holding teacher accountable this will ultimately lead to a decrease in the achievement gap among students. Research indicates that teachers who use test performances as a guide to improve their instruction are more effective than teachers who do not use test results (Harvey, 2004).

By testing teachers, administrators, and states accountable through assessments necessary reforms can be made when they are needed. Reform may be able to close the achievement gap among students. Better, better refined assessments allow educators to use the results to refine instruction (Sternberg, 2004). Knowing where students are and what they are lacking allows administrators to efficiently and effectively devote resources to programs that work (Sternberg, 2004).
I believe that assessment will provide motivation for burned out teachers, new teachers, and average teachers to become committed to the quality of their work and strive to become exceptional teachers. Teaching is not a job where you punch in and out at the end of the day. I feel that some in the profession are not using all the capabilities that they have and this is a great disservice to the students.

Controversy often means a disagreement over a belief, value or law, however, the arguments over assessments all come down to achievement for students everywhere. Author Vincent L. Ferrandino puts it “In the end, we all want increased student achievement and we need to work together- Congress, states, districts ,school and communities- to develop and implement laws that truly put students first” to show that all want are working towards the same goal (2004, p. 64). Support systems like before school, after school and summer programs must be implemented to provide students additional support systems to promote high standards (Ferrandino, 2004). An increase in funding may be one solution we can all work towards. The promises from the federal government to provide funding when NCLB went into affect have not been kept (Ferrandino, 2004). Many education advocates are lobbying congress for funds that will balance the demands of high quality education and what schools have now (Ferrandino, 2004).

In a recent article in the Arizona Daily Star states that reading and math scores for blacks and Hispanic students has increased more over the past 33 years than that of their white counterparts (Commings, 2005). The article says that the promising resulted have been an accumulation of higher standards, better accountability, and assessments. Kati Haycock an advocate of poor and minority students said “to rest the notion that achievement gaps are inevitable. Expectations have increased, and students of color are rising to the challenge” (Commings, 2005).

If the trend continues and minority students are closing the achievement gap then assessments are working. Many in the field of education say that reaching that one child who may have been lost is the ultimate reward. Children who may be on the verge of underperforming may or may not be minorities but the evidence shows that the assessments are working. Assessments have and are succeeding if they require teachers, schools and students to perform better.

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