Evaluation of High Stakes Testing Around the World

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Assessments of students take place regularly in most classroom situations. Similarly, schools and districts are becoming accustomed to seeing their test scores made public through state reporting systems. High-stakes testing, however, has special characteristics. In general, the term refers to any assessment used for accountability with significant consequences. For students, that means test results that lead to very important decisions in one's life. Standardized achievement tests have consequences which range from grade retention for school children to rewards or punitive measures for schools and school districts. The temperament of standardized achievement tests used in these situations poses validity problems for the decisions. Numerous unintended negative consequences for students, teachers, curriculum, and schools have been identified. (Ohio Journal of Science) High-stakes are not a characteristic of the test itself, but rather of the consequences placed on the outcome.

The perception of the stakes may differ. For instance, college students who wish to omit an introductory-level course are often given exams to see whether they have already mastered the material and move to the next level. Being successful in the exam allows them to attain credits that can reduce tuition expenses and time spent at university.

High Stakes Test in Trinidad and Tobago

In the early 1960s the high stakes test of Common Entrance Examination in Trinidad and Tobago was established and served to replace the College Exhibition. It was proposed that it would be the sole determining factor to gain secondary education in this country. It was not intended to be a pass or fail examination and the number of awards depended on the number of secondary school places available at the time. This examination was a multiple-choice examination. The multiple choice tests were in English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science with the exception of the Composition aspect of the examination. Students were then placed into secondary schools on the basis of their order of merit and their parents' choice of school.

The Common Entrance Examination system had its disadvantages. Examinations as these causes stress for students, parents, teachers, and school administrators, and has been reported in some cases to even lead to psychological distress so severe that it requires hospitalization or treatment. The idea that performance on a single exam could change the course of someone's life is distasteful to some people, especially those who disapprove of high stakes tests in general. All of this contributed to the failure of this system and it was because of this failure that a Task Force chaired by Mr. Clive Pantin, and which included Dr. Anna Mahase, Dr. Janet Stanely-Marcano, Mr. Anthony Garcia among others, was set up to look at the removal of this Examination. The Task Force concluded that anxiety and stress remained an attribute of the Common Entrance Examination and those immediately concerned with it. The sense of dishonor and dissatisfaction which became an attribute of not only those who failed, but also of those who were successful but did not gain admission to the school of their choice. Additionally it stated that because a lack of acceptable alternatives to public secondary education and the importance of the examination began to put forth an excessive influence on the primary school, the curriculum and teaching practices. Teachers were often very restricted to that subject which would be tested at the examination. Also, students who performed well in the examination entered the secondary school without the basic preparation for secondary school work. It found that nearly fifty percent (50%) of the students who wrote the Common Entrance Examination appeared to be semi literate and innumerate.

Recommendations were made by the task force to develop a Secondary Entrance Examination to assess the students' level of competence in three areas which include English, Mathematics and Written Composition. Furthermore, it stated that Science and Social Studies should be omitted because of the gratuitous influence they had on the final result in the Common Entrance Examination placement of students and because they were unsatisfactorily tested. Other recommendations such as a Continuous Assessment Programme (CAP) should become an integral part of the School System. The Continuous Assessment Programme was to be used to determine the student's readiness for promotion.

The Secondary Entrance Assessment is a system of education which prepared the child for entry into a secondary school and included mechanisms to determine when the child was ready and where he or she would be placed, was the major aims of that new system of education. According to the Universal Secondary Education Project Implementation Unit December 28th 1999, the implementation of the Secondary Entrance Assessment would provide a link between separate elements of the Universal Secondary Education in Trinidad and Tobago. Secondary Entrance Examination would assess students' readiness for secondary schools by testing their skills in Language, Mathematics and Problem-solving and covers the national curriculum for Primary-level education with a focus on Standards three-five. Students who are in Standard five and have not yet attained the age of 15 are eligible to write the SEA. It alluded to the fact that there would be no multiple-choice questions, a feature of the Common Entrance Examination. Furthermore, based on marks scored on the exam a student will acquire placement in the secondary school according to the availability of places in their school of choice and availability of secondary places in their education division. Also, students passing for a denominational school will be granted the 20 percent.

Interviews and results

Interview Schedule for High Stakes Test

Two week schedule

Tasks

Activity

Time Frame

Duration

1. Sensitization of teacher, parent and students

1. Meeting to set the purpose for impending interview

15th.February 2010

One hour

2. Formulation of questionnaires

1. Questionnaires will be formulated by interview personnel

16th. & 17th. February, 2010

Two days

3.Appointment for interviews

1. Interview personnel set up appointment with stakeholders for interviews.

18th. February, 2010

One day

4. Interview with teacher

1. Interview personnel interviews teacher on a one on one basis using questionnaire

19th. February, 2010

One hour

5. Interview with parent

1. Interview personnel has a one on one interview with parent

25th. February, 2010

One hour

6. Interview with three students

1. Interview personnel has a one on one interview with students at different times.

26th. February,2010

Three hours

7. Analyze and synthesize data

1. Interview personnel analyzes and synthesizes data collected

1srt. & 2nd. March, 2010

Two days

Teacher's Perception of the High Stake Test.

The teacher has been teaching the Standard Five class for the past twenty years. He always administers a standard diagnostic test to measure the level of readiness of his students in the beginning of an academic year. He is bombarded with many challenges such as lack of resources, varying abilities of students, improper infrastructure, limited parental support, overcrowding and most significantly the high demand of workload to be completed before the SEA examination.

He tries his best to alleviate some of these challenges by creating his own resources, schedule parent conferences, plan and deliver lessons using various teaching methods to cater to the diverse needs of his students. He sacrifices personal time during the vacation, on Saturdays and sometimes on afternoons after school to conduct classes for slower learners to complete his program of work prior to the examination.

It is his belief that a multiple choice test which was the main form of testing in the Common Entrance examination does not truly reflect the abilities of students. He thinks that children need to think critically when dealing with problems and express themselves. For this reason, the SEA examination is the better choice for the high stake testing in Trinidad and Tobago.

. He is of the opinion that the SEA examination is an appropriate assessment tool to measure students' performance in this changing educational era.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to high stakes testing and more so the SEA examination. This teacher believes that this form of assessment will assist all students to learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective strategies to help students attain high standards; provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to discuss and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do; focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively; reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm; and provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.

There are many drawbacks with respect to high stakes testing. These include the careless implementation of programmes of work that may not meet the varying abilities of students which may result in negative consequences.

This teacher firmly believes that sacrifice, diligence, determination are the key for the successful completion of any examination.

Parent's Perception

For this parent, having a child in the Standard five class creates a lot of anxiety. He thinks that this examination causes a lot of stress related incidents at home and school for parents and children. As the breadwinner of the family, he has insufficient time to assist his child with his preparation for the test. He believes that the child has to do this examination whether it is fair or not because it is the sole determining factor of his child's future.

He believes that SEA is the best means of measuring his child's performance.

This parent is of the opinion that SEA is less demanding than the common entrance examination because the emphasis is on mathematics and language arts areas and there is no longer the science and social studies component. Lack of knowledge of content and time management is some of the challenges that this parent encounters when trying to lend assistance to his child. He seeks assistance from other parents and the teacher when uncertainty arises in assisting his child.

He believes that motivation is a key factor in the success of his child. He believes that if the child is motivated he will do well. He is quite confident that his child will succeed in the SEA examination because of the teacher's competences, his support and most importantly the child's effort. As a parent he feels that he did his best in preparing his child for this high stakes test.

Children's Perception

All three students aim to successfully obtain their first choice in the high stakes test and plan to work conscientiously towards achieving this goal. They believe that the SEA examination is one of the most vital one that they will have to write and complained of not having sufficient time to prepare and it is a lot of sacrifice and hard work. They all think that their teacher is hard working and due to that they will succeed. They have been practicing on many past papers and attending extra classes. They feel that their parents provide ample support for them. All three students have the confidence that they are prepared for the SEA examination and will surely succeed.

Common themes

All stakeholders mention that the SEA examination is a suitable assessment tool to measure students' performance.

For successful attainment in the SEA examination must sacrifice, work hard, possess dedication and commitment.

Students are affected by anxiety and stress for examinations.

A key factor in the success of any student is teacher competency.

The support from all stakeholders are vital components in the preparation for high stakes test.

Conclusion

High stakes test in Trinidad and Tobago is as important and crucial with respect to the educational future of an individual. It is the transformation from the primary level to the secondary level. Much emphasis is placed on this test and it is the stepping stone for advance studies and is crucial to attainment of certificates and diplomas that will secure a good job. High-stakes testing is ultimately an effective tool to encourage students to achieve their best and teachers to provide the instruction that will assure high levels of learning. Accountability should follow responsibility from teachers and administrators individually and collectively they should be held accountable for their part in improving

student performance. Teachers and administrators should be accountable for the progress of their students. Districts and the country/ministry should be accountable for the professional development and support they provide teachers and schools to enable

students to reach high standards.

Appendix 1

Teacher Questionnaire

How many years have you been teaching a standard five class?

How do you diagnose the level of your students' readiness at the beginning of the school year?

Have you encountered ay challenges in teaching a standard five class?

How do you cope with these challenges?

What is your view of the elimination of the common entrance examination and the implementation of the SEA examination?

Do you believe that the anxiety levels of students are the same with to the change from the common entrance examination to the SEA examination?

Do you think that the SEA examination an appropriate assessment tool to measure students' performance?

What are some advantages of this assessment tool?

What are the disadvantages of this assessment instrument?

Can you give some recommendations to alleviate the pressures of this exam?

Appendix 2

Parent Questionnaire

What are your expectations as a parent having a child in an SEA class?

Do you spend sufficient time assisting your child in his school work?

Do you think it is fair to your child for this examination to be the determining factor of his placement in a secondary school?

What is your opinion the elimination of the Common entrance examination and the implementation of the SEA examination?

Do you think it is an appropriate assessment tool to measure your child's abilities?

What are some challenges you face as a parent with a child in a SEA class?

What strategies you use to cope with the challenges faced?

Do you think motivation is necessary to alleviate some of the stress that your child faces? Why?

Do you think your child is capable of successfully completing the SEA examination? Why?

Are you contented having fulfilled your duty as a parent in preparing your child for the examination?

Appendix 3

Student Questionnaire

What are your aims upon entering in SEA class?

What are your views concerning the upcoming SEA examination?

What are some of the challenges you are facing in preparing for the exam?

Is your teacher competent in preparing you for this examination?

What have you been doing to prepare for the examination?

How are your parents supporting you in the preparation for the examination?

Are you ready for the examination?

What do you think will be the outcome of the exam?

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