Della-Piana's 2008 article "Enduring issues in educational assessment" the "key recommendations" in the report A Nation at Risk called for standardized tests to measure "minimum competency" "at major transition points" to "certify the student's credentials; identify the need for remedial intervention, and identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work" (Della-Piana 2008). However, even for this early report, construct validity -- namely the question if the tests that 'raised the alarm' regarding student underperformance were valid -- was an issue. Tests that measure outcomes alone may not fully test necessary learning skills, like the ability to reason mathematically. But open-ended questions can be highly subjective in terms of grading. These were some of the problems critics had with the tests used in the report A Nation at Risk and continue to plague many NCLB tests in states all over the union.
For example, an essay written by a student can be eloquent, but contain many grammatical errors. Or, an essay might be grammatically acceptable, but show little complex thought. Both students may receive the same grade on a 1-6 scale, but the scores reflect entirely different deficiencies. And truly "measuring performance on open-ended cognitive processes and problem solving puts heavy cognitive and management demands on the teacher" to impart such skills (Della-Piana 2008). In direct contrast to Holland, Della-Piana suggests some harried teachers might welcome standardized assessment as a relief from the rigors of individuated classroom planning, but Della-Piana sees this 'relief' as compromising student learning.
Holland actively engages readers in the educational debate over testing, Della-Piana provides a historical overview, but Gail Hughes emerges with a strong, articulate and contrarian point-of-view regarding educational testing in her review of an alterative testing program at a Native American school. Her review is an overview of a book-length critique of standardized and assessment focuses on a school that is "is almost 100% Native American in a community with 75% unemployment and where approximately 70% of students score below the national average on standardized tests" (Hughes 2008). The school, to build confidence and teach critical skills, instead created an "evaluation of student portfolios" that Hughes believes "indicates that students are learning in richly connected ways often unmeasured by traditional standardized tests. In this school, students learn in an interconnected environment enriched by the tribe's native culture. Teachers support portfolio assessments because the evaluations 'mean something to our students. When they open it up, there's a meaning to that. When you fill in bubbles on a sheet or look at simply numbers on a page & #8230;the numbers do not have the same meaning or convey students' craftsmanship'" (Hughes 2008). Individualized instruction, in short, still matters and is what really encourages children to flourish -- a statement with which most educators are likely to agree, even outside of the specific context of Hughes' essay.
All three articles examine NCLB and its current implications -- even Della-Piana's article, which is a historical overview of the report A Nation at Risk, as it mobilized support for greater use of standardized assessment amongst liberals and conservatives alike. Holland's review of current literature and data regarding current use of NCLB stands in striking contrast to Della-Piana's more focused examination of validity issues in standardized testing that have existed since A Nation at Risk. Hughes' book review, through which she examines how non-standardized testing can elevate performance in a specific context, provides a refreshing anecdotal approach to the generalizations of the other authors. All three authors grapple with the degree to which the loss of individualized curriculums helps or harms overall student learning, as well as with questions of validity regarding test results.
Points of agreement and disagreement
While all authors agree that the nation's schools are failing some of our children, the question remains how to address and improve this. Is a stress-ridden environment where some teachers even feel pressured to 'cheat' to save their jobs and schools really the answer, especially given questions of the validity and even the competent construction of such texts, as discussed in Holland and Piana? Hughes alone takes the brave stance that standardized assessment may not be useful or wise: "in an effort to leave no child behind, the United States is leaving many children behind," she writes (Hughes 2009). "Society must look beyond test scores and consider the impact of