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The state of standardized testing

FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015 10:58 AM

Standardized testing is a part of the American educational system that has many uses. Scores help teachers see how well their students have learned content, incentivize schools and reflect upon teachers' abilities. What's more, testing is mandatory. With exams on the horizon, here's a look at the state of standardized assessments in the U.S.:

Current laws
The No Child Left Behind Act, which passed into law in 2001, required all students to take assessment tests every year between grades three and eight, and once in high school. Students have to complete math and English assessments. In addition to this federal mandate, many states and individual districts also distribute exams. As a result, students end up taking many exams throughout the course of their education. The exact number is difficult to trace, as some sources estimate students take 113 during their academic careers while others try to add up the annual amount, which is somewhere between 10 and 20. As you can see, it's a big range.

While states are required to give annual exams, some have been able to avoid it. President Barack Obama has offered waivers to some states that have requested them. 

Changes ahead
NCLB will soon expire, and legislators have been discussing what will happen next. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has publicly stated his support for the continued use of mandatory annual exams. Others wonder if legislators can write a more nuanced law that includes some testing, but reduces the overall load on students and teachers.

Standardized assessments do offer benefits for students and schools. For instance, they help teachers see which areas their students excel in and which require more attention in class. Additionally, exams highlight how well every student is learning, producing individual scores rather than a sweeping school or district average that conceals kids who struggle. 

On the Common Core
The Common Core State Standards are a set of benchmarks many states have elected to use in schools. Curriculum is aligned to these Standards, and now students take exams that are aligned as well. The assessments occur in the spring, and 2015 is the first year they'll be fully implemented - in years past, the tests were still in a pilot period. Additionally, Common-Core-aligned tests replace the states' prior mandated exams rather than add to them. However, many states and districts administer other assessments as well.

The future of standardized testing in the U.S. is still up for grabs, and people land on all sides of the argument. For now, Arne Duncan has reminded people that all students, parents and teachers deserve to know how well kids are learning.