High stakes tests are defined as those tests that “carry serious consequences for students or educators.” The consequences from standardized achievement tests range from grade retention for school children to rewards or punitive measures for schools and school districts. The nature of standardized achievement tests used in these situations poses validity problems for the decisions. Numerous unintended negative consequences for students, teachers, curriculum, and schools have been identified. (Ohio Journal of Science) High-stakes are not a characteristic of the test itself, but rather of the consequences placed on the outcome. For instance, no matter what test is used whether it is a written multiple choice, oral examination, performance test a student wanting a medical license must pass the medical licensing test to practice medicine.
The acuity of the stakes may vary. For instance, college students who wish to omit an introductory-level course are often given exams to see whether they have already mastered the material and move to the next level. By passing the exam they can attain credits that can reduce tuition expenses and time spent at university. A student who is anxious to have these benefits may consider the test to be a high-stakes exam. Another student, who places no importance on the outcome, so long as he is placed in a class that is appropriate to his skill level, may consider the same exam to be a low-stakes test.
To further concretize the idea what high stakes testing really is one can examine the phrase “high stakes”. “High stakes” is derived directly from a gambling term. In gambling, a stake is referred to the quantity of money or goods that is risked on the outcome of some specific event. A high-stakes game is one in which, in the player’s individual opinion, a large quantity of money is being risked. The term is meant to imply that executing such a system introduces indecision and potential losses for test takers, who must pass the exam to “win,” instead of being able to obtain the goal through other means.
In Trinidad and Tobago, in the early 1960s the high stakes test of Common Entrance Examination was introduced and served to replace the College Exhibition. It was intended that it would be the only tool of qualification for secondary education in this country. It was not intended to be a pass or fail examination and the number of awards depended on the number of secondary school places available at the time. This examination, for all intent and purposes, was a multiple-choice examination. The multiple choice tests were in English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science with the exception of the Composition aspect of the examination. Students were then placed into secondary schools on the basis of their order of merit and their parents’ choice of school.
The Common Entrance Examination system had its drawbacks. Many critics stated that anxiety, depression, pains, fever, delirious behaviour and severe panic attacks were some of the effects the Common Entrance Examination had on students. These and many other reasons led to the failure of this system and it was because of this failure that a Task Force chaired by Mr. Clive Pantin, and which included Dr. Anna Mahase, Dr. Janet Stanely-Marcano, Mr. Anthony Garcia among others, was set up to look at the removal of this Examination. The Task Force in its findings found that anxiety and stress remained an attribute of the Common Entrance Examination and those immediately concerned with it. It also highlighted the sense of unworthiness and disappointment which became a characteristic of not only those who failed to gain a place, but also of those who were successful but failed to gain admission to the school of their choice. It further stated that due to the importance of the examination and due to a lack of acceptable alternatives to public secondary education the examination began to exert an inordinate influence on the primary school, the curriculum and teaching practices. Teachers were often very restricted to that subject which would be tested at the examination. It was found that students, even those who performed well in the examination, entered secondary school without the necessary basic preparation for secondary school work. It found that nearly fifty percent (50%) of the students who wrote the Common Entrance Examination appeared to be semi literate and innumerate.
The Task Force recommended, among other things, that there was need to develop a Secondary Entrance Examination which would test the students’ level of competence in the key areas of English, Mathematics and Written Composition. It stated that this needed be done in a manner which would indicate readiness of the secondary education programme. Additionally, it stated that Science and Social Studies should be omitted because of the unwarranted influence they had on the final result in the Common Entrance Examination placement of students and because they were unsatisfactorily tested. It also recommended that a Continuous Assessment Programme (CAP) should become an integral part of the School System. The Continuous Assessment Programme was to be used to determine the student’s readiness for promotion.
The Secondary Entrance Assessment, a system of education which prepared the child for entry into a secondary school and included mechanisms to determine when the child was ready and where he or she would be placed, was the major aims of that new system of education. According the Universal Secondary Education Project Implementation Unit December 28th 1999, the implementation of the Secondary Entrance Assessment would provide a link between separate elements of the Universal Secondary Education in Trinidad and Tobago. Secondary Entrance Examination would assess students’ readiness for secondary schools by testing their skills in Language, Mathematics and Problem-solving and covers the national curriculum for Primary-level education with a focus on Standards three-five. Students who are in Standard five and have not yet attained the age of 15 are eligible to write the SEA. It alluded to the fact that there would be no multiple-choice questions, a feature of the Common Entrance Examination. Furthermore, it stated that placement in the secondary schools would be based on marks scored on the exam; the available of places in their school of choice, availability of secondary places in their education division and taking into account the 20 percent (20%) provision granted to denominational school under the Concordat.
The teacher I interviewed has been teaching the Standard Five class for the past fifteen years. Upon receiving his new class he does a standard diagnostic test to measure the level of readiness of his students. He is faced with many challenges namely lack of resources, varying abilities of students, improper infrastructure, limited parental support, overcrowding and most importantly the high demand of workload to completed before the SEA examination.
He uses his initiative to alleviate some of these challenges for instance creating his own resources, schedule parent conferences, plan and execute lessons using various teaching strategies to meet the needs of his students. To complete his program of work before the examination he sacrifices personal time during the vacation and on Saturdays and sometimes on afternoons after school to conduct classes for slower learners.
In his opinion a multiple choice test which was the main form of testing in the Common Entrance examination does not truly reflect the abilities of students. He feels that children need to express themselves and think critically when dealing with problems. Hence the SEA examination is the better choice for the high stake testing in Trinidad and Tobago.
Examination in its many forms poses some level of anxiety among students, teachers and parents and the fact remains that the coping mechanism for this is all the individuals’ responsibility. He is of the opinion that the SEA examination is an appropriate assessment tool to measure students’ performance in our rapidly changing society.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to high stakes testing and more so the SEA examination. This teacher believes that this form of assessment will assist all students to learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective methods to help students achieve high standards; provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to debate and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do; focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively; reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm; and provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.
He also believes that there are many shortcomings with respect to high stakes testing. These include the careless implementation of programmes of work that may not meet the varying abilities of students which may result in negative consequences.
Sacrifice, diligence, determination are the key for the successful completion of any examination was the closing comments by this standard teacher.
There is a high level of anxiety for this parent by having a child in the Standard five class. She feels that this examination is heavily weighted and causes a lot of stress related incidents at home and school for parents and children as well. Being a housewife, she has sufficient time to assist her child with his preparation for the test. She feels that the child has to do this examination whether it is fair or not because this is the norm in this country.
This parent is of the opinion that SEA is less demanding than the common entrance examination because the emphasis is on mathematics and language arts areas and there is no longer the science and social studies component. She believes that SEA is the best means of measuring her child’s performance.
Time management and lack of knowledge of content are some of the challenges that this parent encounters when trying to assist her child. She seeks assistance from other parents and the teacher when uncertainty arises in assisting her child.
Motivation is a key factor in the success of her child. She believes that if the child is motivated he will do well. She tries to emulate her parents as she was also motivated to do her best. She is quite confident that her child will succeed in the SEA examination because of the teacher’s competences, her support and most importantly the child’s effort. As a parent she feels that she did her best in preparing her child for this high stakes test.
The three students aspire to successfully acquire their first choice in the high stakes test and plan to work diligently towards achieving this goal. They believe that the SEA examination is one of the most important one that they will have to write. They feel they do not have enough time to prepare and it is a lot of sacrifice and hard work. They all believe that their teacher is the best and they will definitely succeed. They have been doing many past papers and attending extra classes. With the exception of one child, they feel that their parents provide ample support for them. All three students have the confidence that they are prepared for the SEA examination and they will secure their first choice.
All stakeholders believe that the SEA examination is an appropriate assessment tool to measure students’ performance
Sacrifice, hard work, dedication and commitment are crucial for successful attainment in the SEA examination.
Stress and anxiety affects everyone in any examination.
Support from all stakeholders are essential components in the preparation for high stakes test.
Teacher competency is a key factor in the success of any student.
High stakes in its entirety is relevant in Trinidad and Tobago. It serves as the medium from the primary level to the secondary level. Much emphasis is placed on this test and it is the stepping stone for advance studies and is crucial to attainment of certificates and diplomas that will secure a good job. While there may be shortcomings in the implementation of programmes of work which may not meet the varying abilities of students’ can result in negative consequences. However, in preparing for high stakes test students will develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. It allows students to achieve higher standards. With respect to schools, it promotes well define goals which will lead to more productivity and provide real accountability. The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) in Trinidad and Tobago is the high stake test that assesses students’ readiness for secondary schools by testing their skills in Language, Mathematics and Problem-solving.
How long have been teaching a standard five class?
On receiving a new class of students, how do you diagnose the level of your students’ readiness?
What are some challenges you face in teaching a standard five class?
What are some strategies you used to overcome these challenges?
What is your opinion of the removal of the common entrance examination and the implementation of the SEA examination?
Do you think the level of anxiety of students is the same with to the shift from the common entrance examination to the SEA examination?
Is the SEA examination an appropriate assessment tool to measure students’ performance?
What do you think is the advantages of this assessment tool?
What are the disadvantages of this assessment instrument?
What recommendation can you give to alleviate the pressures of this exam?
How do you feel as a parent having a child in an SEA class?
Do you spend sufficient time assisting your child in his school work?
Do you think it is fair to your child for this examination to be the determining factor of his placement in a secondary school?
What is your opinion the removal of the Common entrance examination and the implementation of the SEA examination?
Do you think it is an appropriate assessment tool to measure your child’s abilities?
What are some challenges you face as a parent with a child in a SEA class?
How do you cope with the challenges faced?
Do you think motivation is necessary to alleviate some of the stress that your child faces? Why?
Do you think your child is capable of successfully completing the SEA examination? Why?
Do you feel that you have fulfilled your duty as a parent in preparing your child for the examination?
What are your aspirations upon entering in SEA class?
What are your opinions with respect to the upcoming SEA examination?
What are some of the challenges you are facing in preparing for the exam?
Do you think your teacher is competent in preparing you for this examination?
What have you been doing to prepare for the examination?
How are your parents supporting you in the preparation for the examination?
Do you feel you are ready for the examination?
What do you think the outcome of the exam will be?
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