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Testing Inclusivity: Are Standardized Tests Including your Student?

The Dreaded Tests

Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, curriculum and testing in American public education has never been the same. What began as an effort to ensure all every student received a quality education, quickly evolved into an obsession with evaluations and standardized testing.

Today, standardized exams such as LEAP, iLEAP, ACT, SAT, and more are now commonplace in our society. Students and teachers expect to come into contact with these tests at some point, and for many this topic adds of great anxiety and conflict to an already stressful educational environment (Corbett & Wilson, 1991).

This inflation of tension in the education environment is primarily due to two main reasons. The first of these being that standardized tests are creating high-stakes for both students and teachers, whereas students scores not only determine pass or fail but also the teacher's job security. Secondly, teachers are being directed on how they must teach their students in order to pass the test, consequently "de-skilling and de-professionalizing teaching." (Darling-Hammond, 1988; McNeil, 1988, 2000).

 

So What About Inclusivity?

Despite the overall distaste for standardized testing, on of the most serious issues discrediting these exams infrequently occurs to parents: what about the test's equity and fairness?

Many caregivers never consider the idea that their student may be participating in a test that is ultimately unfair to them and setting them up for failure. The idea that a test is fair to all of its test-takers is known as testing inclusivity, and this aspect plays a huge role in the success of the student participating. Children at the highest risk of having a non-inclusive testing experience are minority students, children with physical or mental disabilities, students who speak English as their second language, and impoverished children.

 

"Standardized tests are said to encourage the cultivation of a narrow form of intelligence, relegate people to low-level jobs, and contribute to slow decline of the societies that rely on testing to select undergraduate students (Delgado)."

 

What does Unfair Testing Look Like?

There are many subtle aspects of the testing experience that may pose a threat to the student's testing inclusivity. While there are a multitude of aspects that affect inclusivity, we will name just a few to help everyone get the idea:


1 . Cultural Slang

A large percentage of all standardized testing consists of mostly reading and comprehension. In order for students to comprehend what they read, it is best for students to have a good understanding of the vocabulary being used. General exams should use very general terminology, no terms that are specific to a certain culture or region should be included. For instance, the ACT should never pose a question asking how many boudin links little Johnny should bring to Mardi Gras. For obvious reasons, this question is very central to Louisiana culture. Not only will many test takers not understand some of the verbiage, they will spend quite a bit of brain power trying to decode the sentence rather than focusing on the actual point of the question.


2 . Formatting and Fonts

In many instances the actual formatting and font of the exams pose an issue for children, some of whom may have physical disabilities. Tests that have large print with clear divisions between topics are very important for all students, but most especially for those with visual impairments. The first step in taking an exam is being able to read the exam.

While many students may not be considered visually impaired or disabled, nearly 20% of school-aged children suffer from near/far sightedness but only 5-8% of these children actually have corrective lenses (Hechinger Report).

Since many students may go without visual correction, or the diagnosis of visual deficiency at all, it is best to promote exams with large text and clear division in format.



3 . Time Constraints

One of the largest complaints amongst students taking the ACT is the amount of time they have to complete their exam. Time constraints during exams are empirically proven to have no valid reflection of the individual's content mastery, increase feelings of testing anxiety, and exclude children still working to learn English or master reading comprehension (Gernsbacher, et al). These appraisals affect children of all backgrounds, not necessarily students who have a high risk for lower test scores.


4 . Testing Environment

The testing environment for students taking standardized tests is also of high importance. In October of 2022, HHYC conducted an ACT Prep Course where students used cafeteria-style seating. When asked for recommendations to better the course, 100% of students asked for better seating that was more comfortable. All students were in good physical health and the course lasted approximately the same time as the actual ACT exam (3.5 hours). Considering that many standardized tests are often taken in large school cafeterias, auditoriums, or classrooms, we can conclude that many students have a conscious sense of discomfort throughout their exams. This does not include the disabled population, who would presume to be much more uncomfortable than their typical counterparts.


Are Standardized Tests Including my Child?

While standardized testing is apart of the required norm in public education, it is important to still play an active role in shaping your child's educative experience.

The best ways to tell if your child's exam is inclusive to them is by comparing their normal testing scores to their standardized testing scores. Is your child an A/B Honor Roll student who failed their LEAP test? This may point to a barrier in equity that needs to be addressed.

If you feel standardized testing may not be representing your child in the best way possible, be VOCAL about your concerns. You are your child's best advocate!

Many teachers and principals in the public school system do not have a choice about whether to employ certain standardized tests. While this detail is frustrating, it is not our only hope. Write to your school board members, local government, and even standardized testing companies. If you feel your child is the odd man out, let their story be heard!

The more attention brought towards the importance of inclusivity in testing practices will help aid the fight towards testing procedures that represent all children!

 

References

Corbett, H. D., & Wilson, B. L. (1991). Testing, reform, and rebellion. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.


Darling-Hammond, L. (1988). Accountability and teacher professionalism. American Educator, 12, 8–13.


Delgado, Richard. “Standardized Testing as Discrimination: A Reply to Dan Subotnik.” University of Massachusetts Law Review 9 (2014): 98-107.


Barshay, J. (2021, October 2). Proof points: Focusing on glasses in schools. The Hechinger Report. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-focusing-on-glasses-in-schools/


Gernsbacher, M. A., Soicher, R. N., & Becker-Blease, K. A. (2020, June). Four empirically based reasons not to administer time-limited tests. Translational issues in psychological science. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7314377/



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