Editorial: New testing not helpful in identifying academic issues

Kevin Griffin

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the majority of the editorial board.

It was announced Monday that Appalachian State University will be included in a pilot program along with four other schools that will implement standardized testing for students, specifically the Collegiate Learning Assessment.

Despite objections from the UNC-system Faculty Assembly, the plan will require the test be given to a group of freshman students and a group of seniors with the intention of identifying academic inefficiencies in the UNC system.

The test will be administered to up to 300 randomly selected students from each class, but those who are chosen may elect not to take the test, according to an article in this issue of The Appalachian.
Despite being optional, we see several problems with this proposal and believe that it goes in the wrong direction in terms of identifying issues with the university system.

Standardized testing has become a major issue for education in the United States over the last decade, with school funding and student advancement being tied to performance on the tests.

This is problematic, as several issues with standardized testing in general have become apparent.
Appalachian has administered the CLA twice before, during the 2007-08 and 2010-11 academic years. In a review of the testing, collegeportrait.org found that “academic gains from freshman to senior year were as expected for students like ours.” The report also noted the limitations involved with the voluntary nature of the test and small sampling size.

Development psychologist and Williams College senior lecturer Susan Engel conducted a review of more than 200 studies of K-12 standardized tests and published some of her reflections in Psychology Today.

Engel found, among other things, that there was no or very little evidence that testing improved student knowledge in classroom settings generally or that it was a good predictor of later life success.
This gives some credence to the common claims that standardized tests shift educational priorities to a focus on the test itself, forcing teachers to “teach to the test” rather than making sure students have necessary critical thinking skills.

And this is just in high schools where the curriculum is fairly standard for all. Imagine applying it in a college with so many different people with so many different educational paths.

One of the primary purposes of college is to give students exposure to a wide range of knowledge, while also allowing them to branch off and specialize in areas of personal and vocational interest.

Since evidence does not support testing as a good measure for later “life outcome,” as Engel says, it should not be used to detect issues in the university system or teaching methods.

One of the objections voiced by the faculty assembly was that the test might constrain teachers from having influence over curriculums. Given the often narrow constraints that standardized testing imposes, we believe the concern is legitimate.

Relying on a method of evaluation that has such little supporting its effectiveness to pinpoint problems in the system, and one that carries the real possibility of limiting the educational of priorities of the university is an ineffective use of student and faculty time and effort.