This lesson will trace the evolution of American educational assessment from colonial times to the present.
It will highlight the role of standardized testing as well as several pieces of legislation.
Evolution of Assessment
Yesterday I cleaned out my refrigerator. It’s a task I despise, but despite my dislike of it, it’s a rather easy job.
I take out all the leftovers, and I give them a look and a smell. If they pass the sniff and sight test, they live another day. If there’s even a hint of spoilage, they get tossed, and that’s the end. There are no government regulations I need to follow or forms I need to fill out. It’s just a quick pass or fail system of assessment.When cleaning out my refrigerator, this system of quick, subjective assessment works just fine.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for educational assessment. Unlike a mom testing the contents of plastic food containers, the task of assessing educational progress is rife with procedures, standards, and a whole bunch of concern. Due to this, educational assessment has gone through oh so many changes and stages.Today we’ll discuss this evolution as we look into the history of educational assessment. Since this is such a broad topic with so many avenues to explore, we will limit our scope to American education from about colonial days to the present. Also, because this topic also incites lots of emotions, we’ll limit our inquiry to facts.And so we begin.
During America’s earliest years, educational assessment usually took the form of oral evaluation. Rather than filling in multiple choice bubbles, students were called to the front of the class to recite passages, spell words, or do arithmetic in their heads. Unlike today, assessments were not standardized. Evaluations did not require students to answer from a standard, preconceived bank of questions in order to measure mastery. Rather, they were subjective.
Sort of like I inspect the leftovers in my fridge, the teachers of old gave their students ‘the sniff and sight test.’ Can they answer my questions to my satisfaction? If so, they pass to the next level. If not, they stay behind for more practice.Changing things a bit, written examinations began creeping onto the scene. Yes, oral exams were still employed, but having students prove themselves on paper also became a popular assessment tool. It became commonplace for a child of the mid-1880s to sit at a desk and take a test. However, at this time, evaluation was still not standardized or centralized.
Educational assessment was not regulated by some central, overarching government authority. For the most part, teachers made the assessment decisions.Following closely behind written assessments were letter grades.
In the late 1890s, Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, instituted the first full scale letter grading system. Now instead of a teacher’s smile and nod signifying a pass or not up to snuff, the letters A, B, C, D, E, and F conveyed success or failure.
On the heels of letter grades came standardized tests. Unlike the more subjective tools previously employed, standardized tests require all students to show mastery by successfully answering a battery of the same standard questions.
One of the first standardized tests used in the U.S.was the Thorndike Handwriting Scale of the early 1900s. Following soon after this came the Stone Arithmetic Test, one of the first American standardized tests in mathematics.With the advent of standardized testing, assessment underwent another huge change.
Standardized tests were not only used to assess student performance, they were also used to compare student performance. Sort of like me taking out all my cucumbers and ranking them from freshest to spoiled, the guys calling the shots in education believed these standardized tests afforded a more objective and effective means to rank students.Within about a decade of the Thorndike Handwriting Scale, standardized tests were popping up everywhere.
In the early 1930s, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known famously as the SAT, was born. Designed from an earlier IQ test used by the military, the SAT soon became the predominant test used to measure student readiness for college.By the late 1940s, standardized testing had cemented its place in American education.
This time period saw the birth of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) the world’s largest educational and testing assessment organization. Although ETS has come under some scrutiny over the years, it has churned out some of the nation’s most used standardized tests. Along with the SAT, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the College Level Examination Program (the CLEP), the Praxis Test, and many more, all belong to the Educational Testing Service’s catalog of tests.
With the scare of the Cold War and America’s race to space, the 1950s saw American education inundated with cries for government involvement. The powers of the day wanted to make sure that America’s schools were working. They wanted assurance that we wouldn’t be left behind in a cloud of dust by other countries, specifically the Russians. With this, standardized tests also took on the role of measuring teacher performance. If students scored well, the teacher was doing his job. If his students scored poorly, the teacher had failed to be effective.
In 1965, the U.S. government, under President Lyndon Johnson, really stepped into the education ring with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Known as the ESEA, this act provided federal dollars for schools and promoted the use of standardized tests as a means for student assessment. For decades, the ESEA saw millions upon millions of American school students taking tests like the New York Regents Exam, the California Achievement Test, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.In 2002, the U.S. government signed into law the reauthorization of this Elementary and Secondary Education Act. With this reauthorization of sorts, the former ESEA was dubbed No Child Left Behind.
Passed under the presidency of George W. Bush, this piece of legislation mandates thorough assessment of students by means of standardized testing. To put it mildly, this landmark piece of legislation has sparked much debate.Amid this debate, recent years have seen adaptations made to No Child Left Behind.
For instance, the Obama administration has loosened some specific standards set by No Child Left Behind. In turn for this loosening or flexibility, states are required to create and implement their own rigorous standards. According to some educators, this trade off of sorts just moves them from the frying pan and into the fire. But as I said earlier, our purpose today is not to give opinion, so with this, let’s just jump to our summary.
During colonial times and America’s earliest years as an independent land, educational assessment and evaluation often took the form of oral evaluation.
Rather than being required to take written exams, students were often called to the front of the class and quizzed orally.However, during the late 1700s into the 1800s, written examinations started to be more commonplace. In the late 1890s, Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts instituted the first full scale letter grading system.Next came standardized tests. Standardized tests require all students to show mastery by successfully answering a battery of the same standard questions.
The Thorndike Handwriting Scale, of the early 1900s was one of the first standardized tests used in the U.S. The Stone Arithmetic Test was one of the first American standardized test in mathematics. These tests were used to measure and compare student performance.During the Cold War and the Space Race of the 1950s, standardized tests being used to measure teacher effectiveness and performance also became more the norm.Under President Lyndon Johnson, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was passed. This act provided federal dollars for schools and promoted the use of standardized tests as a means for student assessment.
In 2002, No Child Left Behind was signed into law. As a reauthorization of the 1965 act, it mandates thorough assessment of students by means of standardized testing. Passed under the presidency of George W. Bush, this law remains controversial.
In recent years, the Obama administration has sought to loosen some of the standards set by No Child Left Behind. However, in trade for this flexibility, states are required to implement their own very strict assessment standards..