Role of Mandated Tests in Curriculum Development and Student Achievement

In recent years, there have been extensive reforms in America’s public post-secondary and K-12 institutions. The federal authorities have established state mandated tests as a measure to transform academic achievement in American public schools. These tests have been established to compel public schools to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). For instance, the United States government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001 with the aim of asserting for accountability in relation to students’ achievement (Meier, 2002). In this regard, local education boards pushed for the adoption of a norm-referenced national assessment in public schools as a replacement to the existing criterion-referenced tests specifically targeting third to twelfth grade students.

In a bid to meet NCLB’s 2014 Average Year Progress in science, reading, social studies and mathematics, schools have embarked on vigorous testing ranging from classroom or benchmark tests to state-standardized test. Standardized testing exerts high expectations among students and thus raises their achievement bar (Goldberg, 2005). These tests are essential benchmarks in terms of knowledge gain by students and do provide an important basis for quality validation of the country’s public schools. As an effective and objective approach to assessing student achievement, standardized tests have been developed to enhance reforms in schools as well as facilitating for the standardization of curriculum.

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State-mandated accountability tests were established to act as basis for evaluating the progress of schools and students with regards to the fulfillment of state standards. state mandates or standards usually refer to a description written according to grade levels and the state’s expectations of what students ought to achieve in key subject areas (Baker, 2001). The mandated test results are used as a basis for developing a series of levels of proficiency related to the standards outlined by the state. Proficiency levels include: advanced; proficient; basic; and below basic. Taken once in a year, state mandated accountability tests play a vital role in determining the level of cognitive ability achieved by students and if they meet the minimum standards stipulated in the NCLB Act. The great pressures exacted on schools through these standardized test plays a great role in increasing competency and performance.

State standardized tests give vital information regarding instructional efficiency of schools (Gay, 1990). Through standardized testing, it has been possible to diagnose learners with special needs from the regular students thus facilitating for the development of a customized curriculum to meet AYP requirements. Educators, professionals and counselors use the norm-referenced test scores to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for struggling students which have had an immense impact on instructional practices for the special needs learners. According to Linn (2001), mandated tests “point out specific misconceptions or problem areas that are hindering progress” among special needs students whose learning cognitive ability differs from the regular system.

Standardized test results can be an important diagnosis for students who need to be counseled for self discovery. Standardized achievement test aid in determining whether a student is to be placed under regular, remedial or advanced classes so as to ensure provision of customized instruction to enable schools to meet the pressures of AYP (Goldberg, 2005). Standardized tests play a vital role in the objective measurement of skills and concepts gained through instruction. Like standardized tests, norm-referenced national test are taken by students across states or districts as a key part of the assessment program. These tests are very essential in assessing the level of basic skills and concepts taught in public schools nationwide. Norm-referenced tests include the Iowa basic skills test, Terra Nova test, the California Achievement Test and the Stanford Achievement Test. These tests are very crucial as they aid in national comparisons of the achievements of similar student samples and are usually administered once in a year. The norm-referenced test provides important information which can be used to asses schools’ effectiveness nationally.

Standardized tests have received much criticism of late due to overreliance on the achievement of AYPs. State mandated tests lack the capacity to measure complex thinking abilities and deeper conceptual understanding (Gold, 2002). A pressure to achieve AYP prompts teachers and students to engage in irregularities so as to be accountable for the standardized test outcomes. This has lead to a compromise of educational ethics. For insurance, a number of instructors admit to have taught materials where the test is sourced so as to achieve his scores in high-stakes testing. In the long run, this has led to a compromise in the quality of instruction procedures such as experiential learning, real life problem solving instructions and hands-on teaching.

Standardized tests impact negatively on the learning process and self esteem. Preparation for tests amidst pressures to be accountable negatively affects the teaching process due to a negation of the qualitative progress made by learners over a period of time. The tests do not represent the real cognitive ability of students since different learners perform differently in various tests (Gay, 1990). For instance, students will perform differently on oral presentations, projects, writing tasks as well as in reading. Standardized testing thus hinders diversity in terms of learning styles since it fails to consider important sub-groups, students with learning disabilities, and learners with limited language proficiency. Standardized tests ignore diversity in learning capabilities. For instance some schools instruct on the test. However, instruction competency and test difficulty such as in the case of norm-referenced test may differ since the state tests are usually not the same. Thus it is becomes unfair or difficult to compare achievement nationally.

That mandated standard accountability testing has shaped curriculum and instruction in public schools as well impacting on student achievement is indisputable. The tests have quite satisfactorily met their objectives and their promise for the future with respect to achievement is overwhelming. However, despite the promises, ethical questions arise regarding some of the approaches used to increase achievement. Controversy has especially been centered on test teaching and the fairness of the national comparisons give that states tests differ. However, much is yet to be done regarding how the standardized testing addresses the various groups of learners whose cognitive capabilities differ.


Baker, E. (2001). Testing and assessment: A progress report. Educational Assessment, 7(1), pp.


Linn, R. (2001). A century of standardized testing: Controversies and pendulum swings.

Educational Assessment, 7(1), p. 29.

Gay, G. (1990). Standardized tests: Irregularities in administering of tests which affect test

results. Educational Tests & Measurements, 17(2), pp. 93-103.

Gold, B. (2002). Contradictions of school reform: Educational costs of standardized testing.

New York: Routledge/Falmer.

Goldberg, M. (2005). Losing students to high-stakes testing. Education Digest, 70(7), pp. 10-19.

Meier, D. (2002).  In schools we trust. Creating communities of learning in an era of testing and

standardization.  Boston: Beacon Press.



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