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Testing Issues

Testing issues have become a big topic in recent years. Standards for test scores, like No Child Left Behind, make teachers and administrators more focused on test results. Learn about the impact testing issues have on how teachers present subject matter.

Do you remember a time when you were given a spelling list on Monday and tested on it on Friday by writing the words that the teacher read and used in a sentence? Even if you didn’t experience that exact scenario, there was a time when testing was thought to be a pretty straightforward affair. But today we are faced with a host of testing issues as experience and research have revealed that testing is not as transparent as it seems. Read on to learn a bit about the range of testing issues at the forefront of today’s discussion.


Even the seemingly straightforward spelling test was not necessarily a fair test for a child with a hearing impairment, a child who was not a native speaker of English, or a child with dyslexia. Today, the focus is not only on the task, but also on the child, with more measures in place to help assure that both disabilities and contextual inhibitors are addressed. But that doesn’t mean that all the testing issues involving fairness have been solved: it’s still at the forefront of the debate.

Effects on Education

Teaching to the test has long been one of the hotly debated testing issues. Especially if testing results are linked back to ratings of teachers, districts, and schools - as happens in high-stakes assessments, such as those used by No Child Left Behind, there is a powerful incentive to teach what will help students do well on the test, which may include such topics as test-taking and leave behind any subject area that does not contribute to adequate test performance.

Certainly, such a situation leaves the classroom situation with mixed priorities and with clear indicators that the testing situation changes the nature of the education that children are receiving.

Authentic Assessment

The testing issue of authentic assessment speaks to the question of how certain elements of education can be most appropriately captured. Proponents of authentic assessment claim that there are a number of elements of the education process that are best analyzed:

  • in the course of actual work rather than through a separate and imposed testing situation 
  • through compendiums of work, such as student portfolios, that may include multimedia items, rather than through multiple choice and short answers
  • that reflect actual student accomplishment rather than comparison to norms or bell curves

Supporters of standardized testing point to the ability it provides to compare hundreds of thousands of schools and create accountability. They make the point that analyzing millions of portfolios to find out about school competency and to sort out college admissions is unreasonable.

Proper Scoring

In October, 2005, about 4,000 Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) answer sheets became excessively moist and, as a result, were incorrectly scored. This was discovered in January of 2006, not because of internal quality assurance, but because two students - unconvinced that they’d been scored correctly - requested hand-scoring of their examinations, In March, a week after reporting the corrected scores to colleges, the College Board found another 1,600 tests that had not been rechecked.  Errors of up to 400 points occurred on the 2400 point test,

Although the College Board initially claimed that little harm had been done to most students, some students said that, with lower scores, they had chosen not to even apply to certain colleges that - with accurate score reports - they might have applied to and been accepted by. And colleges reported that the greatest impact to students may have come in their being deemed ineligible for scholarships for which they actually had the credentials.

Trust in computerized scoring systems was certainly reduced by this incident.

Use in College Admissions

But beyond simply scoring, another of the prominent test issues is the role of standardized tests in college admissions. FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, reported in September 2008 that more than 775 colleges had chosen to make SAT and ACT tests an optional part of their admissions process.

Whether they find other measures - such as high school classroom performance - to be better indicators of student success or are revamping their admissions policies to meet the new guidelines on affirmative action (see the article “Affirmative Action” for more information), there is a growing trend to opt-out of standardized testing requirements. Some of the schools on the list are Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine; Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois; Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island; Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York; and Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.


FairTest -

New York Times “Colleges Say SAT Mistakes May Affect Scholarships,” 1,600 SAT Tests Escaped Check for Scoring Errors”

The Daily Orange “Water damage causes inaccurate reporting of October SAT scores”

APA online -