Standardized tests have become a hallmark of US schooling in the 21 st century

Standardized tests have become a hallmark of us

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Standardized tests have become a hallmark of U.S. schooling in the 21stcentury. (Source)This emphasis on standardized testing can be traced to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. NCLB mandated that schools test all students in most grades every year in math, reading, and
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Sociology of Education (Fall 2020 Edition)Page 36science. Schools whose students did not make sufficient progress in improving scores face a variety of consequences, including replacing teachers or being turned over to a private manager. Supporters of NCLB put much of the blame for low student achievement on educators. Looking at how they believe private businesses are run, they argued that setting clear, measurable expectations for performance and holding educators accountable was the best way to motivate people. To them, testing students frequently—and reporting scores by race/ethnicity and other categories—would push schools to do a better job serving all students. Some policies use “carrots” (rewards) to motivate people. Others use “sticks” (punishments). NCLB relied on sticks. Both Democrats and Republicans have largely supported this approach of using test scores to hold schools accountable, and federal and state policies since 2001 have emphasized standardized testing.Research on the effects of this trend has been mixed. On the one hand, there is evidence that scores have improved and achievement gaps have narrowed in some areas—though not as rapidly or consistently as supporters expected.42On the other hand, there are a lot of unintended consequences. For example, the curriculum has narrowed in many schools, especially those where students often score poorly, replaced by an emphasis on test preparation. Schools also tend to focus on the “bubble” students (those closest to passing the standardized exams) and to give less attention to those who are way ahead or behind, and cheating has been a problem in many school districts. In addition, standardized tests are not necessarily accurate measures of student learning. This leads sociologists and other scholars to argue that important decisions about students and schools should never be made on the basis of test scores alone.43School choiceGrowing up, did you go to your neighborhood elementary or high school? Or did you go somewhere else, maybe to a magnet, charter, or private school? While most Americans still go to their local public schools, today’s students have far more options than they did a generation ago.Like testing and accountability, the movement toward school choice was heavily influenced by ideas from the business sector. Think about the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Because cereal companies have to compete with each other, they make different varieties to appeal to different people, and they have an incentive to ensure that each box of cereal is high quality. Supporters of school choice argue that for too long, students and families could only choose one kind of school—imagine grocery stores shelves lined with boxes of the same cereal. From this perspective, when
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