Education has been considered to be a key to success all over the world. Therefore, a student who performs exemplary in academic work is mostly rated to be headed for a bright future. This has thus made many parents to take their children to schools they feel that perform well in academic work. Teachers and schools administrators on the other hand also try to tailor the curriculum system to enable the students do well in their tests.
Competition has been very stiff in the public schools as many people do question the performance of such schools putting in mind that they are government sponsored, hence public property. Many do even argue against the government sponsoring the public schools.
The state on its side has passed standardized tests to sees the improved performance, and monitors the integrity of the schools they sponsor. This has yielded fruits on one hand, yet on the other hand it has again elicited argument against the system.
This research paper looks at the performance of the students in IOWA tests in public schools in the Virginia Island and the mainland United States and examines the causes of the difference in the performance.
The schools, teachers and administrators mold an educational philosophy which they have to adhere to, whether intentionally or none intentionally. The philosophy that is built in the learning environment gives the educators and the students a basis on which to build knowledge. This philosophical basis varies from one society to another, depending on the way the educators carries out their education duties.
Good teaching is critical foundation of good knowledge. Good teaching will be appreciated by the educators, learners and the public at large. “Some teachers have a gift to help students learn, but knowledge of the learning process, child development, and academic content are all important components of good teaching”, (Roth & Swail, 2000, pp 3). The education system in the mainland and the Islands differ in terms of population, culture and resources. These are some of the issues that can affect the learning and teaching process in the schools and thus affect the performance of the students.
The education system in America has been on the public focus for quite some time, leading to serious examination of the schooling system in America. Various factors contributed to this developments, including a substantial decline in test scores in the 1960s and 1970s, the weak performance of America students relative to their peers in some other countries, and the large gap in average test scores between some minority groups and non-minority students”, (CBO, 1986). The increased concerns have made many schools and states to introduce the testing of students as indicators of performance for both the school and the student.
Education systems in Virgin Island
Many schools in the Virgin Island and the entire United States put emphasis on the areas of achievement assessment and accountability in the education for the children. Schools have made an increased expansion of scope in testing and assessing the students in various fields.
Many schools do put in place the principle of No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in developing an assessment system for students’ grades three through eight, as well as grade eleven.
The public schools are run by the state, which has highly contributed to undoing of these schools. This is because the public education system has been turned into a monopoly, thus all the other stakeholders will have to follow the policies that are laid down by the government. As Goodman (N.d) argues, “education is not a standardized commodity; people have different needs for different kind of it. Yet compulsory education laws force children and parents to consume the governments version of education-as-we-see-it whether it meets kids needs or not” (Para 5). Public schools have politically coined values that affect the general performance of the school’s education system.
It has been argued that the input on the public education system can easily be measured, but the output is not. The input can be measured in terms of cost incurred, and the output can be measured through the performance of the students. “One collection of yardsticks are the scores students achieve on such tests as the IOWA Test for Basic Skills (ITBS) and Scholastic Aptitude (SAT)”, (Goodman, N.d, Para 18). Many who propose for the government sponsored education system argue that the system prepares the students to function well in the society. Although average years of schooling have increased, the illiteracy level in the United States has not declined very much in a long period of time.
In the Virgin Island, the education department decided to implement the IOWA tests as a territory’s official testing vehicle, since they are closely aligned with the existing standards for curriculum, (Manness, 2005). In sticking with the IOWA tests, the VI department of education aims at improving the local schools performance since it gives a good measure of year-to-year progress.
The categories that the schools test are reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, sciences and source of information. The importance of the tests is that they show how student’s performance stacks up when compared with the general national level by taking a sample of the students doing the same tests at the same time of the year but are in different geographic regions.
Territories and states can decide that their schools test their students’ academic skills and performance by coming up with an exam from scratch or use the standardized systems like the IOWA tests. Various states and territories are allowed to set own goals for which they feel the students have to know. For instance, in the Virgin Island, testing a student’s understanding of the Caribbean Island history can be achieved by adding some question in the social studies of IOWA tests. For a student to be rated as being proficient in that field, the score has to be at least 75 percent.
The overall tests carried out nation wide have ranked the Virgin Island to be performing below average as compared to the other nation wide sample. For instance, in the standardized tests done in 2004, the results were arranged to show the nation percentile Rank of each school, district and grade in each academic subject. “Compared with a nationwide sample of students at the same grade levels most VI schools fell in the bottom fourth for total academic scores on the elementary-level IOWA Tests of Basic Skills,(Manness, 2005, Para 24). According to the results of the tests, a few schools had good scores but non in the Virgin Island reached 50th percentile. The 50th percentile line divides the nationwide population of students into two halves, whereby one half is above the line, and the other half is below the line. This is done in all the grades.
Some better results were witnessed in 2004 when two schools from VI region were able to surpass the 40th percentile in a composite score. The schools only surpassed the 40th percentile on single grades each. On the other hand, many schools did significantly worse in the composite score; among the worst scored subjects are mathematics, and Reading. Social studies subjects seem to be strong in the Virgin Island are stronger in the spelling and revision of the written passages, than most of their peers across the nation.
According to the Daily News records, the Virgin Island has not given standardized tests for at least four years in the past decade (Maness, 2005). Improvement is shown in subsequent tests when the teachers and students gain familiarity with the contents and styles of the tests. It has also been shown that students tend to work harder when they realize that the tests mean something to them.
In another research carried out, California State was found to be very poor in science literacy. The elite students do very well but the overall performance is poor. According to Maugh (2001), the
California’s scores were similarly poor four years ago. That time, the only states whose students did worse than California’s were Hawaii, Mississippi and Louisiana. This time, no state did worse than California among fourth graders. Among eight-graders, California was tied for last with Hawaii. In both cases, America Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands were worse than any state, (Para 2).
Most of the poor scores were attributed to difficulty in reading among students. It is estimated that between one fifth and one-quarter of the states’ in various grades are not fluent in English.
In many instances, there have been drops in the performance of science subjects, among the white students. This has thus narrowed the gap between the minority and the white students. The poor performance in science can however be attributed to the fact that there are few or no science lessons taught in schools, and that there are very few trained science teachers.
In the first state-by-state comparison to assess how students in public schools performed in national academic tests, that were released in 1991, the data showed that the highest grades in a mathematics subject for eighth graders came from the students in the upper Midwestern and northwestern states. These regions basically have less large cities and low level of poverty than the other regions (Witt, 1991). In the same survey, it was found that only one of eight subjects mashed the proficiency level required in the subjected.
In testing and assessing students, performance in class work enables the building and strengthening of the public schools. Combining the tests, student’s grades, and the teacher’s recommendations can indicate the student’s skills, knowledge and abilities. Tests have been found to be the most sound and objective means of measuring student’s performance. However, caution should be taken when using tests to measure the student’s performance. This is because if it is not properly used or when used alone, it can not give the best results on the student’s performance.
Many school, districts and states are using the testing of student’s performance to hold the individual school and its education system accountable. Thus testing can help the educators and the school in general to know if what they are offering to student is relevant and also act as a feedback to the teachers about their teaching methods and curriculum.
Tests vary according to different purposes, i.e. according to the intended uses and ability to provide meaningful assessment about the student’s learning and knowledge acquired. Therefore to make the tests more meaningful to the student and the school, tests should be sound, scored properly and be used in an appropriate manner.
Public officials and administrators have been calling for the use of test to determine whether the student will move to the next grade or receive a diploma. The tests should hence forth cover what the students have covered in the syllabus so as to ensure that no student is disadvantaged for being tested on what he/she has not learnt. Furthermore many schools have been avoiding the use of a single test to grade the student. This is because such a case may provide‘snapshot’ of the student’s achievement and not the actual reflection of the student’s entire year’s achievements (APA, 2001).
There are other argument against the tests and ranking of schools either within the states or with comparison to other states. Many feel that the ranking creates more division and segregation in the states. Furthermore, if a student fails the test to promote him/her to next grade, it implies that the following year will be spend in the same grade. This has been argued to be a waste of resources. For instance when a student has not been promoted to the next grade, it means such student will concentrate in a school with less resources, hence the schools will be faced with increasing problems of marshalling additional teachers and other learning equipments to cover and make up for the lost time.
In other arguments, it has been felt that the schools that continuously rank low in the test might loose the government sponsorship and thus allow charter schools in the areas. This will further divert students and resources in the area. Many parents have also protested against the standardized tests against their children in schools, especially now that most of the students’ lives are determined by test performance. Test scores have been increasingly used to rank the schools, hence determine the resources to be supplied to the schools, and as well as make it possible for the teachers and parents to alter the school curriculum programs.
Those against the testing in schools also feel that the testing benefits the publishing companies at the expense of parents. Publishing companies like McGraw Hill has been found to make a lot of profits due to the publishing that the company has carried out. Despite all the costs that the parents feel are incurred in the testing for their children, most of them do not understand what test score actually mean. In fact some parents feel that the system does not improve for instance reading skills, but rather causes a decline.
Despite the many arguments against the government sponsoring public schools, and setting the standardized tests. It is obvious that the tests have got more advantages that can make the schools educators and administrators to be more active in running the school programs and as well be more accountable. It will also make the students to work hard as they will be focused on passing their tests.
- American Psychology Association-APA (2001): Appropriate Use of High-Stakes Testing in Our Nation’s Schools.
- Congregational Budget Office -CBO, (1986): Trends in Educational Achievement, Web.
- Goodman P. (N.d): Education. Web.
- Maugh T.H (2001): U.S Students Flunk Science Assessment, Vol. 2, No. 34.
- Roth D & Swail W.S (2000): Certification and Teacher Preparation in the United States. Web.
- Witt K.D (1991): Math Survey in Public Schools Show No State Is Cutting It, The New York Times.
- Math Survey in Public Schools Shows No State Is ‘Cutting It’. Web.