While several states are implementing some form of standards-based reform, there is very little empirical evidence to prove that standards, assessment, and high-stakes accountability programs are effective in improving public schools. In many states, such as California, attempts to implement standards-based reform are inconsistently or carelessly aligned with quality research. The following are some of the shortcomings of standards-based reform. 1. Recent reports on the standards-based reform movement in New York suggest that in many schools the careless implementation of standards and assessment may have negative consequences for students.
Vague and unclear standards in several subject areas in several states complicate matters and do not serve as concrete standards defining what students should know and be able to do. 3. Top-down standards imposed by the federal or state government are also problematic. They impose content specifications without taking into account the different needs, opportunities to learn, and skills that may be appropriate for specific districts or regions. Table 1: Advantages of SBA compared with external examinations Point Characteristics of SBA
Characteristics of Exams Scope Extends the range and diversity of assessment collection opportunities, task types and assessors Much narrower range of assessment opportunities: less diverse assessment; one exam per year Authenticity Assessment done by students’ own teacher; less possibility of cheating as teacher knows student capabilities; assessments more likely to be realistic Removes assessment entirely from teaching and learning; stressful conditions may lead to students not demonstrating real capacities Validity
Improves validity through assessing factors that cannot be included in public exam settings Limits validity by limiting scope of assessment, e. g. difficult to assess interaction skills in exam environment Reliability Improves reliability by having more than one assessment by a teacher who is familiar with the student; allows for multiple opportunities for assessor reflection/standardisation Even with double marking, examiners’ judgments can be affected by various factors (task difficulty, topic, interest level, tiredness, etc); little opportunity for assessor reflection / review Fairness
Fairness is achieved by following commonly-agreed processes, outcomes and standards; teacher assumptions about students and their oral language levels is made explicit through collaborative sharing and discussion with other teachers Fairness can only be achieved by treating everyone the same, i. e. setting the same task at the same time for all students. Feedback
Students can receive constructive feedback immediately after the assessment has finished, hence improving learning The only feedback is usually a grade at the end of the course; no opportunities for interaction with assessor; no chance to ask how to improve Positive washback (beneficial influence on teaching and learning) Ongoing assessment encourages students to work consistently; provides important data for evaluation of teaching and assessment practices in general Examination is purely summative, and does not serve any teaching-related purpose; effects on teaching and learning may even be negative; may encourage teaching to the test and a focus on exam technique, rather than outcomes.
Teacher and student empowerment Teachers and students become part of the assessment process; collaboration and sharing of expertise take place within and across schools Teachers play little to no role in assessment of their students and have no opportunity to share their expertise or knowledge of their students; students treated as numbers Professional development Builds teacher assessment skills, which can be transferred to other areas of the curriculum Teachers have no opportunity to build their assessment skills; get little or no feedback on how to improve as teachers