Variations in Measurement and Thresholds: Testing Young Learners, Term Paper Example
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An inherent dilemma lies within how learning at young ages is measured, in that learning at these ages is very much an exponential process as the child first demonstrates learning, they are also developing the cognitive abilities necessary to comprehend and retain information.Consequently, any such determining of learning must be tempered by an awareness of the shifting nature of the process itself.This reality, then, also goes to the issues when standards designed for more mature learning are applied to young learners, and increasing efforts have been made to render the measurements distinct.Widespread thinking among educators today, for instance, holds that no standardized testing should be administered to children prior to the fourth grade (Harrison, Salinger, 2002,p. 182).Nonetheless, attempts to gauge young learning proficiency are not likely to diminish; as families seek to gain insight as to their children’s capabilities and potentials, so too does the dominant culture pursue investigation and assessment, if only in order to anticipate issues in learning as likely arising later.In the following, a variety of testing models will be presented, geared for young learners and for adults, which will then enable discussions of efficacy.In regard to young learners, and as will be seen, the term may apply to ages ranging from preschool to high school, with testing applications varying accordingly.This assessment of such testingwill be followed by a conclusion incorporating recommendations as to how young learning may best be measured, based on current thinking, known issues with testing, and concerns for individual well-being and progress.
Background of Practices in Education and Testing
Before any examination of actual testing procedures is offered, it is essential to grasp the significance of such testing itself, which in turn goes to the consistent applications of it.It is, first and foremost, only relatively recently that educators and communities are revising testing standards long in place for young learners, as Western traditions have typically insisted on rigorous measurement standards derived from adult learning expectations.In no uncertain terms,and well into the 20th century, children’s education has largely been a consequence of social, religious, and commercial interests converging, in which the actual educational gains of the child were unimportant.Schools were essentially training grounds in which the child would be instructed at acquire those skills that served the function of the society (Hargreaves, Moyles, 2012,p. 36).As lessons were rote, so too was performance evaluated by only precise standards reflecting nothing but actual accomplishment.
It would be the work of professors such as John Dewey that would promote progressive approaches to education, and consequently to testing.Dewey’s impact is inestimable, as his 500 articles and 40 books on the subject greatly assisted in altering the direction of elementary education in the U.S. (Friedman, 2003,p. 15). The influences of society and religion would remain strong, but there was at least an acknowledgment of the intrinsic differences between very young children and older children in terms of capabilities and natural interests.More precisely, the nature of the child as developing in a fashion unlike any other time of life was accepted, which then translated to reforms in teaching and testing.The progressive movement had its critics, certainly, as opposition over what was perceived as “child-centered” education held that necessary discipline and evaluations were being discarded, to the detriment of education itself (Hunt, Lasley, 2010,p. 439).Nonetheless, the practices and standards of child learning were changing, and evolving to create the measurement systems in place, and debated, today.
Generally speaking, four skills are tested in childhood, with sub-skills variously addressed: speaking or articulating; listening and comprehension; reading; and writing (Ionnou-Georgiou, Pavlou, 2003,p. 81).Cultural shifts regarding childhood learning affects how these skills are tested and evaluated, but this basis of assessment remains traditionally in place.Interestingly, it seems that the emphasis on the child arising through progressive education has in fact fostered increased testing practices.The testing of preschool children as learners is today a relatively common practice in Western culture, and particularly in the United States.Designs are typically constructed, whether the tests are written, observational, or in interview form, based on several criteria: children function better when presented with what is familiar; known surroundings offer a sense of comfort and promote ease; and testing is more attractive when the process is stimulating for children (English, 2004,p. 26).The extent to which these components are addressed, in terms of interactive methods or more rote, written measurement, varies with the models employed.
The Gesell School Readiness Screening Test, linked to the Gesell Preschool Examination, is by no means a rigid model; the Gesell philosophy, in fact, emphasizes the behavioral component in child development and learning, and anticipates that such development relies on each child’s rate of growth.The test is designed to allow for developmental gradations based on maturity levels. More pragmatically, theGesell Preschool Examination operates on standards determining basic capabilities of skills, language proficiency, and attention span.The testing is largely interactive, in that the children are encouraged to discuss favorite animals and types of play, and neuromuscular skills are assessed through drawing with paper and pencil.The Readiness Screening Test focuses more on learning, and is geared for children entering grades ranging from Kindergarten to three.Visual exercises, right and left orientation tests, and naming and labeling activities here assess the child’s “developmental age,” a standard devised to then indicate the time required for the child to function within a normal range for their actual age (Durkin, 1987,p. 768).The focus on time as the most important variable in childhood development and learning is the cornerstone of the Gesell model (Bracken, 2011, p. 11), and this would seem to indicate a necessary expansion of potential, and consequently less rigid determinations.
The Gesell tests, however, have been the object of intense criticism.In the last decades of the 20th century, thousands of schools employed the Gesell tests, but this very dominance fueled debate.To begin, the developmental age variable central to the testing has never been empirically validated.This variable is based on the assumption that, in most cases, a young child’s inability to learn is remedied by allowing more time for the child to “grow into” his normative age, and such an approach inherently obfuscates other potentials hindering learning (Bracken, 2011,p.11).With the Gesell tests, the most typical result is extra-year placement, and studies have shown that this reaction is by no means advantageous.In random samplings, those children given extra time in terms of another year in the same, early grade did not appreciably reveal development or heightened learning ability.In further research, the results are the same, and there is a consistent lack of predictability as generated by the Gesell methods (Graue, Shepherd, 1989,p. 315).Interestingly, and in spite of such consistent findings, both teachers and parents tend to support Gesell testing, a tendency quite possibly motivated by the comfort aspect in merely allowing that time be given for the the child to develop.
With regard to other intelligence/learning tests for children, the WISC-III, which is the third revision of psychologist David Wechsler’s classic 1949 test for children, dominates the field.The WISC-III was modeled after Army intelligence tests developed during World War I(Benson, 2003), and is notable for its incorporation of psychological aspects in assessing learning.This is testing which, remarkably, does not require reading or writing.Rather, the child verbally responds to the questions, which assess arithmetic, information acquisition, vocabulary, comprehension, and subsets of other skills.No time limits are placed on the testing, save for the arithmetic portion (Dumont Willis, 2013).Additionally, gradations within the main test apply to children between various ages, ranging from six to 16.A major virtue of the WISC-III has been identified in how its verbal/performance method is non-penalizing; children with visual or motor impairments, for example, are accommodated in the testing.There are other elements promoting the testing, one of which is the massive research base on which it relies.Over a thousand clinical studies offer comparison, and consequently guidance, in relating results to data already validated.Then, the test has been proven as remarkably accurate in determining cases of giftedness or retardation. Lastly, the WISC-III facilitates opportunities for assessment by means of its reliance on verbal expression.It essentially permits the examiner to witness the processes of response, and how the child thinks through a problem (Kamphous, 2005, p. 228).
There are, however, weaknesses observed with the WISC-III, chief among them that there is no theoretical clarity to it.More exactly, the results are not applied to a theoretical framework, and may be employed to suit any theory of intelligence.Ironically, then, this is a test which confounds the typical objectives of testing, even as it generates more relevant information regarding a child’s actual learning ability. It is as well widely felt that the WISC-III is inappropriate for the younger children to whom it is given, because the questions demand comprehension levels more likely developed in older children and adults (Kamphous, 2005,p. 228).Nonetheless, further research supports that the test is consistently valuable as a predictor of academic success, its limitations notwithstanding (Freberg, Vandiver, Watkins, & Canivez, 2008,p. 139).The inescapable reality appears to be that no test for young learning has yet to be designed that fully satisfies the demand for the information desired.The Gesell tests suffer from too strong an emphasis on developmental potential as enabled by aging, as the WISC-III is questioned as inappropriate for very young children.Then, the absence of a theoretical framework in the latter points to too great a level of subjective assessment, as the results are subject to the conception of intelligence in place in the environment.More to the point, a shared issue appears to be that mentioned earlier, in that the intrinsic quality of young learning as being simultaneously occurring as the ability to learn develops presents an extraordinary challenge to measurement.
Perhaps no measure of learning is more applied – or debated – than the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).This is testing designed to measure acquisition, yet it encompasses far more, in that the SAT was in fact devised to glean information regarding learning ability, an aspect lacking in previous college boards admissions tests Ostensibly, the SAT questions addressing literacy and mathematical ability only gauge prior acquisition, but it must be remembered that the test was designed to determine capacity for learning, and this intent is incorporated within the hundreds of questions(Geiser, 2009,p. 16).Moreover, the SAT demands attention by virtue of its enormous impact; controversy notwithstanding, it remains the benchmark in determining a high school student’s readiness to enter college,as its questions address critical reading, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills.More than two million students annually take the SAT, as virtually all institutions of higher learning rely on it as an instrument (CollegeBoard, 2012).Moreover, examining the SAT provides a means of comparing testing for young learners and adults, as the age range reflects the transition from adolescent to adulthood.
As noted, the SAT employs questioning divided between categories of literacy and numeracy, as the questions are, again, constructed to reveal learning aptitude as well as acquisition.What emerged in the late 20th century, however, was an increasing sense that socio-economic advantage, rather than intelligence, was dictating higher scores.In simple terms, it was perceived that the questions themselves were tailored to be comprehensible only to students of middle or upper-class backgrounds.An irony then exists in this chief focus of controversy surrounding the SAT, in that it was designed to provide a more objective assessment of skill levels irrespective of perceived economic advantages.An impetus to its creation in the 1940s, in fact, was the desire to combat the pattern of more privileged children moving onto higher education (Anderson, Taylor, 2007, p. 429).Regrettably, it has been identified that a variety of social factors ranging from family income to race have distinct effects on how young people perform on the test.At the same time, and interestingly, further research indicates that the validity of the test may not be all that compromised.Faced with a consistent decline on SAT scores generally in the 1970s, the College Board empowered panels to investigate, and the results indicate that the same, initial motivation for the SAT may well have led to the decline.More exactly, in the years preceding the decline, an unusually higher number of high school students were taking the test, and within this number were demographics previously rarely present (Jeynes, 2007,p. 358).It seems it was not so much a case of students facing ingrained bias, but more that a vast democratization of the testing process created a leveling of scores.
Additionally, it should be noted that the SAT reflects adult learning tests in the same manner as the most known such test, the Intelligence Quotient (IQ,) does; that is, the results are perceived by the participants more as indications of acquired knowledge than as indicating potential.The intent to assess skill levels on the parts of administrators notwithstanding, the reality is that both young and adult learners perceive their results as more definitive, and this is as true of the IQ test administered to the young person as to the adult.Consequently, and ironically, the scores themselves are predictors for potential acquisition (McEachron-Hirsh, 1995, p. 313); the lower the SAT or IQ score, the more diminished is the self-concept, and motivation to learn is eroded.It is inevitable that this be the case with testing regarding both young learners and adults.
Recommendations and Conclusion
It must be acknowledged that the examination in the preceding pages is necessarily cursory.A wide array of testing methods exists today, of which those cited represent only a minimal sample.At the same time, and just as the SAT very much resembles IQ testing in scope and approach, most reflect similarities in form.Essentially, when attempts are made to assess young learning, they rely on obtaining information about individual levels of ability through various processes of inquiry.In plain terms, the only valid means of comprehending intelligence is through literally “testing” the measure of it, and by means of established protocols.
That these methods have been subject to criticism, valid or otherwise, reflects an encouraging trend in how such testing is perceived.To some degree, there is an inherent validity to testing; it is noted, for instance, that by age four a child’s performance on an intelligence test will be a reliable predictor of their future performance on such tests as they age (Myers, 2006,p. 449).At the same time, there is no underestimating the value of perspective offered by investigation and debate.In plain terms, many great minds have expended incalculable effort in designing the most accurate tests for young learning ability, even as no test is free of controversy, if not identified as intrinsically limited.This then translates to a need, not for “better” testing, but to an awareness that the process is invariably never fully satisfactory.Modern thinking embraces the concept of multiple intelligences, just as it is today understood that certain skills levels or intelligences are by no means more valuable than others.For testing of young – and adult – learning to have true meaning, it must be viewed as the partial assessment instrument it invariably is.What is ultimately required is not a new and more comprehensive means of measurement, but a more expansive approach in how all measurement here is evaluated.
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