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State Standardized Test Scores: Issues to Consider

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By GreatSchools Staff

What About High-Stakes Tests?

The use of "high-stakes" tests is on the rise. Twenty-six states currently have a high school exit exam or have plans to implement one in the near future. Students must pass these exams in order to receive a high school diploma. Some states use tests in certain grade levels (generally third and/or fifth grade) to determine promotion from one grade level to the next.

"High-stakes" tests have generated much controversy. Proponents believe they propel schools to focus on getting all students to achieve and create a "no excuses" environment. Opponents counter that it's not fair that a single test determine whether a student is promoted, and that such tests lead to narrowing what is taught in school.

In fact, much of the controversy around tests is not so much about the tests themselves, but how the results are used: Should English language learners and students with learning disabilities be required to pass the same tests as the other students? Should test results be used to determine promotion or graduation? Should schools be penalized for poor test results?

What Should I Do If I'm Concerned About My School's Test Scores?

If you are concerned about your school's results or the amount of time students spend preparing for state tests, here are some questions you can ask your school principal and school site council:

  • What are the content standards for each subject and grade tested?
  • How much time is spent practicing test-taking skills?
  • What is being sacrificed to make room for these test-prep activities?
  • How are the tests changing the nature of teaching and learning at the school?
  • Does the school use test results to identify areas that need improvement or to target support for certain students?
  • What is the school or district doing about students who consistently score below grade level?
  • What is the school doing to address any gaps in achievement among particular groups of students?
  • What can I do as a parent to help my student prepare for state tests?

Comments from readers

"Well I think students should be taking this test all around the world. For one, you wouldn’t want someone who has a 5th education to be preforming surgery on you or your child right? I personally would be comfortable with that. So this test determines rather a person is qualified to do certain jobs. "
"Why on earth do we have this test it is not fair to the kids that do everything that they are asked and make good grades we need to eliminate this test"
"I would like to know how can a child get all a's&b's on tests and get a b on the final exam,and all of sudden don't pass the earth science sol have to attend sol academy for a week, that makes no sense to me and I don't think that's fair to the child,the state really needs to come up with a different method of testing these kids,because right now I find it ridiculous then to tell the kids and their parents after the school year ends is quite inconsiderate of any plans the family may have.and yes I would like a response asap, this is very upsetting to me. "
"There is so emphasis placed on these tests that the children believe once the tests are done, they passed or failed the grade. My child, gets so sick on these days, that he can barely finish the tests. Clear point in case was last year, he blanked out during the math test. When he was told that he had 5 minutes left, he hurried up and guessed on all the questions. He passed because he had a high 4 on reading. What did he get on math? He received a high 2. He guessed on all the answers. What does this tell me? One must be a good 'guesser' to pass grades."
"Please let me know what NJ State tests are required for the first grader and kindergarten. Is there a web site in which I can monitor the State test results in addition to requesting it from the teachers? Thanks. Jennifer"
"My son consistently performs well below average in most areas of the ERB test; however, he is a solid B+ student at a great private school. I'm afraid this will impact his ability to attend a great college---although he is just in the 8th grade. What resources are available to parents to prepare for upcoming similar standardized tests? "
"Thanks for the information, it's difficult to find the results elsewhere. I enjoy your web site & have introduced many parents to it. Thank you for keeping us informed."