A step further

April 22, 2021

Educators in America began using standardized testing in 1838 to measure the achievements of students, according to the National Education Association. Since then, this has become a common practice across the world for measuring intelligence. However, Austin believes standardized tests don’t always accurately measure someone’s knowledge, but rather the resources they had access to in preparation.

“You could argue that standardized assessments are a little more fair … but we know historically that standardized tests traditionally rank students who are middle class, upper class, white [higher],” Austin said. “There’s a whole lot of reasons for that that aren’t the fault of the district, but we also have a responsibility to consider that when we’re thinking about which students have access to receiving these services.”

Alex Casillas, a principal research psychologist at ACT, believes standardized tests themselves may not be the only reason students of marginalized communities sometimes struggle when taking them. 

“Standardized tests are not ‘the cause’ that is disadvantaging students,” Casillas said. “The educational system as a whole is not sufficiently preparing entire groups of students, with historically underserved groups often bearing the biggest burden of this lack of preparation.”

One solution that Casillas proposes is to not replace tests altogether, but to supplement them with measures of social and emotional learning. 

“Instead of focusing so much effort on getting rid of tests, we should focus those efforts on ensuring that people from underrepresented backgrounds are given true opportunities — not just access — that can maximize their likelihood of success,” Casillas said. 

“Standardized tests are not ‘the cause’ that is disadvantaging students,” Casillas said. “The educational system as a whole is not sufficiently preparing entire groups of students, with historically underserved groups often bearing the biggest burden of this lack of preparation.”

One solution that Casillas proposes is to not replace tests altogether, but to supplement them with measures of social and emotional learning. 

“Instead of focusing so much effort on getting rid of tests, we should focus those efforts on ensuring that people from underrepresented backgrounds are given true opportunities — not just access — that can maximize their likelihood of success,” Casillas said. 

Austin recognizes there is always room for improvement and is currently examining the district’s grading process and standards to better fit students’ needs.

“The district is really trying hard to do this right now,” Austin said. “These conversations are happening, but [we need to] think about not only consistency, but how our biases impact grading and our understanding of knowledge.”

To combat this stigma, the program changed the name from “Talented and Gifted” to the Extended Learning Program when it was first introduced in the district. According to Ewert-Hays, the program hopes to eliminate the stereotypes that come with ELP. 

“One of my biggest goals was to dispel that elite attitude that a lot of people have about ELP,” Ewert-Hays said. “I’ve worked very hard to kind of take that away because that’s something that has been in the past, I’d like that to go away. They just need something different, that’s all.” 

To improve the program, Bergmann believes there should be more funding for ELP in the future. 

“There are a lot of things that as a school counselor I could be able to do for these kids, but given time constraints and all the other hats that school counselors also have to wear to meet the needs of kids, there just isn’t a way,” Bergmann said. “If [ELP coordinator] was my only job, I just can’t imagine the possibilities of the things that we could do.”

Babikir hopes the programs can grow in a way that meets all students’ needs. 

“I think that the school should offer more learning programs to supplement their students’ education,” Babikir said. “They should also be way more transparent about these programs and make sure every single student knows that these programs are an option.”

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