635922749392423727-1454205055_stressedkid

America’s public school education system has been of concern to this country for quite some time.  After falling behind internationally compared to other students in various countries, the United States government has turned to standardized testing in hopes to hold teachers and schools accountable for student’s educational growth and achievement.  What a great idea it seems like on the surface, however, standardized testing has caused many problems for the education system.  High stakes testing has forced teachers to “teach to the test”, or in other words, limit the creativity and control teachers have in the classroom when it comes to curriculum, methods of teaching, and day to day lesson plans.  Since these tests are directly related to teachers keeping their jobs and schools obtaining government funding, teachers are forced to revolve every piece of curriculum and planning to one test­–– one test, that according to the 1410808214150government, is supposed to measure all of the students’ growth, improvement, and knowledge for the entirety of the school year.  With more and more people seeing concerns with these high stakes tests, critics of these assessments have proposed the question: what is the alternative to standardized testing?  There are many alternatives to standardized testing that have had much success in this country and others.  The solution to the issue of standardized testing is to change and reshape the United States educational system and model it after one like Finland’s or the New York Performance Standards Consortium which have both had tremendous amounts of success.

The real problem with Standardized testing began back in 2002 when the No Child Left Behind law was put into effect.  Under No Child Left Behind, “schools are required to give students annual reading and math tests in the third through eighth grade” (Roach).  Over the past fifteen years that this act has been in effect, the use of standardized tests has shaped the K-12 education reform in ways few Americans would have predicted.  The critics contend that today’s tests “fail to measure students’ abilities to analyze and apply knowledge, that they narrow the curriculum, and that they create too many perverse incentives to cheat or teach to the test” (Roach).  Teachers and schools are under more pressure than ever to prepare students for these tests.  With the base of Unknowneducation reform being focused on accountability and global competition, everything has been revolved around a single test score.  With all of the effort being put into this one test score, No Child Left Behind has brought light to more problems in the educational system than anyone imagined when this all began.  These standardized tests have shown that “poor and minority children attending low-resource schools have had a more narrow learning experience under NCLB” (Roach).  This has become a problem when it comes to accountability because these low-resource schools are not producing high enough test scores, and when low test scores are revealed, school funding from the government is cut, causing an even bigger achievement gap.  This is a serious problem because the achievement gap in minorities and low-resource schools is larger than the schools with fewer minorities and more resources.

In addition to the problems with poor and minority students, No Child Left Behind is not as effective as people would initially think.  After more than a decade since NCLB’s start, “only modest gains have been made in overall student math and reading achievement” and over the past two years the Obama administration has “granted waivers to 39 states, exempting them from having to meet the 2014 deadline” (Roach).  President Obama granted waivers to these states because students were not able to reach the required proficiency standards set by the United States government.  With American students unable to reach the proficiency standards after so much time under the No Child Left Behind legislature, it is safe to say that this form of the United educational system is not working and needs to be changed.

"We're taking our standardized tests today. So relax, take your time, and remember, the fate of the world as we know it...is riding on your scores."

With so much attention on the global competition of education and student achievement and the United States consistently not scoring well, it makes sense to look at the other education systems of countries that are out performing us.  One country with a significantly differently way of education but consistently at the top of the international education achievement is Finland.  There are many aspects of Finland’s education system that are attributed to its success and many ways that it differs from the United States.  One of the biggest ways it differs is that Finland does not use standardized tests. images-2 Finland “uses no external tests either to rank students or schools” and “most assessment in Finland occurs at the classroom level since the main idea is to develop and not control schools” (Hunt).  The main use of standardized tests in America is accountability and in Finland there is no such thing as accountability and “while there is a ten-page national curriculum, Ministry of education officials have little interest regarding what schools are doing at the local level” (Hunt).   With Finland students routinely scoring at the top of the international scale with no standardized testing, accountability, and little government involvement, the United States should put less pressure on these tests and strict curriculum and let teachers do their jobs they know how to do.

Another reason for Finnish education success is high teacher quality and respect for educators.  In Finland, being a teacher is rather different than being a teacher here in the United States.  According to one source, “teachers are drawn from the top quartile of upper-secondary graduates and teachers are highly trained professional knowledgeable workers and are treated as such” (Hunt).  Becoming a Finnish teacher is very competitive and the training to become a teacher includes a very extensive instruction and a great deal of practicum experiences.  Another way teachers vary in Finland is that they are given an immense amount of authority when it comes to curriculum.  Teachers have a finlandgreat deal of authority to “interpret directions, select their own materials and text books and design lessons” (Hunt).  Because teachers are so well trained and are such professionals they frequently collaborate and at least once a week they get together to “plan and develop curriculum” and are encouraged to “work together and share materials” (Hunt).  Overall, it would be in the United states best interest to make the teaching profession a more respected one since after all, they are being trusted with the task of shaping every young mind in America. The United States needs to make teaching programs more competitive to get into, more rigorous, and give a more comprehensive preparation for the profession itself in order to train the best of the best to become teachers.  By doing this the Unites States should see more improvement in the academic outcome of students and the overall attitude towards the educational experience and be able to take a step back from standardized testing and such strict accountability knowing that the teachers are so well trained.

The way Finnish education works is very different than that of the United States.  According to a study, Finnish students start preschool at the age of six years old.  They complete a comprehensive nine-year basic school with with first six years mostly with form (class or year) teachers and the last three years with subject teachers.  Those who need or want to repeat basics do so in the 10th grade.  At the age of sixteen, students enter either upper general secondary or upper vocational secondary schools which are non-graded.  Primary upper general secondary education is required for studies of law, medicine, and so forth in universities or polytechnic schools (Teikari).  With small school sizes, for example no more than 300 students in an elementary/middle school, it is “enhancing the possibility that teachers and principals will know their students and decreasing the possibility that any student will fall through the cracks” (Hunt).  This is something that American schools strive for but just cannot reach due to the high school population and high teacher to student ratio. Another characteristic that distinguishes schools in Finland and the US is equity.  According to an article, there are no private schools in Finland and the few independent schools are publically financed and forbidden to charge tuition.  All schools get equal government funding, which is a huge difference from the United States.  In regards to higher education, there are no private colleges or universities.  Not surprisingly, Finland has the least variability in the world in the level of success achieved by different schools, whether they are on wealthy or poor or urban or rural regions (Fritz).  All of these things mentioned are reasons for Finnish educational success and the United States should modify its educational system and should carry out these qualities of the Finnish education system in the United States.  Doing so will provide better equality and a more personal and focused education for all students without having to make them take a single test that defines their whole year’s worth of knowledge.  Improving the school system in these ways will make standardized testing and accountability unnecessary and take a major amount of stress off teachers and students across the country.

Aside from looking at a school system from across the world, it is important to know there are other solutions to standardized testing that have been successfully tested right here in the United States.  Given that we need to turn away from standardized testing and accountability, the next step in reforming the education system is to implement performance-based testing.  For more than two decades, the New York Performance Standards Consortium has offered a viable option for preparing students for college and careers.  The Consortium’s approach “relies on performance-based assessments, which include essays, research papers, science experiments, and high-level mathematical problems that have real world applications” (Barlowe).  Instead of just bubbling in multiple choice answers, this type of assessment can measure a student’s knowledge and skills in a personal way over time.

images-6

An example of this type of performance-based assessment is demonstrated in an article through a high school senior named Tiffany.  As part of Tiffany’s graduation requirements, she had to write a research paper and an analytical essay in English/language arts, conduct an original science experiment, an applied-mathematics project. Tiffany was evaluated by two teachers and had to defend and answer complex critical thinking problems in a formal presentation in front of a panel of educators (Gewertz).  This type of examination goes way beyond mindlessly bubbling in answers and let’s be honest, did you really care about whatever answers you bubbled in on that state test?  Performance-based assessment puts the focus on student engagement which is extremely important for an effective education.  The Consortium approach is based on the idea that “because learning is complex, assessment should be too” (Barlowe).  In other words, if schools are to challenge students to think critically, explain their work, and answer and consider questions that involve complex responses, it takes a type of assessment like the one the Consortium has created rather than a daunting multiple choice test that has no direct or immediate impact on the student.

critical-thinking

The impact the New York Performance Standards Consortium has had on students and teachers has been very positive.  In regards to the problem of achievement gap in minority and low income students, previously mentioned, which was caused by the standardized tests of the No Child Left Behind legislation, the Consortium shows a drastic improvement.  Consortium students include “a larger percentage of minority and low income students than the overall New York City Public school population” (Barlowe).  The minority students of the Consortium have shown great success when it comes to graduation rates with a 74.7% graduation rate in black students compared to 63.8% for all New York City public schools (Barlowe).  Compared to the public school system, the Consortium shows higher college acceptance for all students at 83.8% (Barlowe).  This system has pushed the limits of education as we know it for the past decades and it is important that the rest of the country implement more performance-based tests into public education rather than all mindless standardized testing.  This type of assessment allows students to be creative and really show what they are interested in.  If the United States follows in the footsteps of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, it will cultivate young minds in an even more complex way that will better prepare people for the real world. It will also pave the way for teachers getting back to their original roots of having creativity and control over their classroom and what they teach.

The critics of the New York City Performance Standards Consortium claim that the group’s more focused approach to education causes a major knowledge gap in classes such as history, mathematics, and the sciences.  Although it is a part of the process of the Consortium to let the students choose their projects and let the students spend a great deal of time on their projects, the Consortium still shows great success.  N.Y.C. Consortium students still have a higher graduation rate and a higher college acceptance rate than N.Y.C. public schools (Barlowe).   Although the Consortium has a different way of doing things, it is providing students with a whole different set of skills than standardized tests do.  Instead of rote memorization for a one size fits all test, students are given life skills such as critical thinking, depth of subjects, interpersonal communication skills, and extensive professional development.  It is in the student’s best interest to include performance-based tests to measure achievement.

school-reform1

Assessment is a key process in education.  It is only through assessment that we can find out whether instruction has had its intended effect.  It is argued that accountability is necessary because “all those with a stake in the outcomes of education­––learners, teachers, parents, other tax payers, employers, and the wider community–– want to know what students have learned” (Wiliam).  While it is important that there is some form of accountability, the use of the standardized tests is not an effective way to measure anything.  Accountability tests cause a “disproportionate focus on tested content, demoralization of teachers, and undue pressure on students” (Wiliam).  While the purpose of these standardized tests have great intentions, since these tests have been introduced there has been no significant improvement in students and “only modest gains have been made in overall student math and reading achievement” (Roach).  Obviously, standardized tests as a form of accountability are not effective and a serious change needs to be made in order to push our students to their fullest potential and start ranking higher internationally.

Many critics argue that because Finland is so different from the United States, there is no possible way anything from Finland’s education system could work here in the U.S.  The fact that Finland is smaller and less diverse than the U.S. has been cited as a possible explanation for the difference in achievement.  However, “other Scandinavian nations–such as Norway– with demographics similar to Finland’s but an educational system closer to ours does not produce academic excellence anywhere near that of Finland” (Fritz).  This shows that it is not the demographics of Finland that help them achieve so highly, it simply has more to do with the educational system itself.  Also, the number of foreign born students in Finland has “doubled between 2000 and 2010 with no change in academic outcomes” (Fritz).  This proves, once again, that demographics have little to do with Finnish success and that it is possible for the United States to modify its educational system and, in fact, it is something that needs to be done.

Another reasonable assumption that people make is that because of the difference in educational outcomes, Finland must put more resources and effort into their students.  This seems very realistic, however, it is not the case.  The U.S. “averaged $7,743 per public student” compared to “$5,563 in Finland” (Fritz).  Also, the Finnish students don’t invest more either.  Finnish students “don’t begin school until age 7, they have fewer and shorter school days compared to America, and they have very little homework, averaging 30 minutes/day” (Fritz).  Therefore, by using aspects of Finland’s educational system, the government could be saving more money than they even imagined.  We put all of this time and money into the education system we have now and nothing but mediocre test scores and complacent students to show for it.  By reforming our education system into something more like Finland’s, the United States could easily see much more improvement and better results.

charts-on-finland-versus-us

No education system is perfect by any means; however, there are some that are known for achievement and some that are known for failure.  The United States being one of the most powerful and influential nations in the world is known as a failure and lacks a strong school system.  It is in the best interest of the United States to reform its public educational system.  Now, reforming it does not mean to completely change it and model it exactly after another school system; it is important to implement multiple ideas from different systems such as Finland and the N.Y.C. Performance Standards Consortium.  The United States government needs to follow in Finland’s footsteps and not use standardized tests; it also needs to push for a higher quality and respect of educators by making it a more rigorous to make it through a teacher’s program.  Another tactic of Finland is to have fewer and shorter school days and assign less homework.  The government additionally needs to include performance-based testing, like the New York City Performance Standards Consortium, in order to better prepare students for the future by teaching them higher level thinking and social skills.  By integrating ideas from both of these systems, the United States will provide a much stronger public education system for the young children of America.  By doing so, America can get to the top of the international competition for student achievement where it rightfully belongs.  Standardized testing was a good attempt at getting the U.S. back to the top, but after decades of no significant improvement, it is safe to say that standardized testing needs to go.  It’s time for change!

images-7.jpeg

 

Annotated Bibliography

Barlowe, Avram and Ann Cook. “Putting the Focus on Student Engagement.”American Educator, vol. 40, no. 1, Spring2016, pp. 4-43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=113962452&site=ehost-live.

Barlowe and Cook analyze the shift from high stakes standardized testing to performance based testing.  For more than two decades, the New York Performance Standards Consortium has offered a viable option to preparing students for college and career. The Consortium’s approach relies on performance-based assessments, which include essays, research papers, science experiments, and high-level mathematical problems that have real-world applications. Instead of superficially assessing what students know and can do on a bubble test, performance-based assessments measure a student’s knowledge and skills in a deep and meaningful way over time. All of this increases student engagement, in turn, giving them a better education overall.  I will use this article in my paper to explain how this new system can be a solution to the problem of standardized testing.

Fritz, Gregory K. “An Educational Comparison of Finland and the U.S.” Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, vol. 30, no. 3, Mar. 2014, p. 8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=94415196&site=ehost-live.

Fritz takes a close look at both education systems from the United States and Finland and compares the two.  After saying that both countries ultimately want the best for their children, he goes on to say that honestly, Finland puts less effort into its educational system compared to the United States financially and academically.  The main difference between the two is the equality of schools and students- Finland has extreme equality while the US is focused on competition.  Another major difference is the quality of teachers with Finland teachers being the best and the brightest. In this article Fritz provides a strong counter argument as to why Finland’s education system wont work when looking at diversity. This will be very important in my essay when countering the argument and providing a strong case for my solution.

Gewertz, Catherine. “N.Y.C. School Aims for ‘Authentic,’ Not Standardized, Tests.” Education Week, vol. 34, no. 37, 05 Aug. 2015, p. 8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=108765772&site=ehost-live.

This article takes a look at the New York Performance Standards Consortium and how they offer an alternative to state standardized testing.  Research on the consortium schools shows that while they serve larger proportions of low- achieving students than New York City schools in general, they produce higher graduation and college-enrollment rates. The consortium uses a more authentic way to determine student capability through projects.  Gewertz follows one student through her senior presentations and how it all works.  This system ensures that students are prepared and that it builds not only content knowledge, but the skills to apply it to real- life situations, to make arguments and interpretations with it, and to present and defend it orally.  I will use this source as another alternative to my solution to fixing standardized testing.

Hunt, John W. “Recent Evolution of Public Education in the US and Finland: Can the FinnishModel Work in the US?.” Journal of Philosophy & History of Education, vol. 63, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 121-136. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=114085472&site=ehost-live.

In this article, John Hunt talks about the recent reforms of public education looking at the United States, which is said to have failed as a public school system and Finland who is consistently scoring at the top when comparing internationally.  This source takes a look at the history of public education for both the United States and Finland including the different reform movements of the US- the excellence movement, the restructuring movement, and the standards movement- and Finland’s history stressing equality of students, free schooling, national curriculum, and no real accountability. This source is very informational as far as how Finland’s system works and I will use a lot of facts from this in my essay.

Roach, Ronald. “Teaching to the Test.” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, vol. 31, no. 3, 13Mar. 2014, pp. 32-36. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=96357911&site=ehost-live.

Roach analyzes the problems with standardized testing in the American education system.  He explains in depth the No Child Left Behind policy.  He argues that today’s tests fail to measure students’ abilities to analyze and apply knowledge, they narrow the curriculum, and create too many incentives to cheat or teach to the test.  Also, he argues that poor and minority children are at a disadvantage when taking these high stakes tests.  Roach thoroughly explains how the nation is at risk and how we need to find the right balance to fix the educational system.  This source will support my problem of why standardized testing is bad and why it needs to be changed.

Teikari, Kaija. “Perspectives from Finland: Educational Voices.” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin,vol. 82, no. 5, Sept. 2016, pp. 26-30. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=117538081&site=ehost-live.

Teikari provides information about the Finnish school system.  She goes into detail about the history of the Finnish education and how it became what it is today.  Teikari also explains the current school system process in detail.  She explains in detail the experiences in two different Finnish schools: one in the countryside and one in the capital city.  She gives the perspectives of two different people: the visiting educator and students.  The students give their opinions on what a good school is, what a good principal is and examples of each.  This article will be used to show what a Finnish school system is like and why we should use their model as part of my solution to the problem of standardized testing.

William, Dylan. “Standardized Testing and School Accountability.” Educational Psychologist, vol. 45, no. 2, Apr-Jun2010, pp. 107-122. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00461521003703060.

This article explores the use of standardized tests to hold schools accountable.  William looks at the scores of these high stakes tests and argues that the systems currently in use have significant shortcomings.  He states that test scores are often interpreted in different ways intended by the makers.  William makes a point to say that these high stakes tests can have a positive impact on students but they just need to be designed more effectively.  He then takes a look at the logic of accountability testing, the impact of the testing on students, and how to improve high stakes accountability tests.  I will use this source to explain what high stakes testing is and use it as information to build my counterargument and add to my solution.