Students' attitudes toward high-stakes testing and its effect on educational decisions

Aldo Alfredo Moran

Abstract

With the recent increase in accountability due to No Child Left Behind, graduation rates and drop-out rates are important indicators of how well a school district is performing. High-stakes testing scores are at the forefront of a school's success and recognition as a school that is preparing and graduating students to meet society's challenging demands. High school years arc a critical time in the lives of adolescents. High school students are trying to establish their sense of being, self-confidence, and belonging (Fasko & Flint, 1990); therefore, the challenges and outcomes of high-stakes testing are detrimental to their growth and future. High-stakes testing appeared to have taken its toll on students' self-worth and motivation, especially on those students who did not perform well (Afflerbach, 2004). The stigma of failing a test that determines a student's future may have caused unrecoverable detriment and altered educational success and may have resulted in the student's inability to overcome the idea of being labeled unsuccessful, thus, the indirect consequences of dropping out. According to Capodilupo and Wheelock (2000), "higher drop-out rates are predictable consequences of high-stakes testing" (p. 3). Terry (2008) wrote that the responsibility of protecting these interpersonal needs has fallen upon educators. By having a better understanding of the influence of the Subject Area Testing Program (SATP) on high school students' educational decisions, educators can motivate and help to determine the future of these adolescents and increase their opportunities to have a positive impact on society as opposed to becoming burdens to society or statistics. The purpose of this study was to determine if high-staking testing had an effect on educational decisions. The study addressed the many implementation areas of the Mississippi SATPs by gathering information from those most affected by the SATPs, the high school students. Therefore, students' perspectives were the driving force in determining whether or not the SATPs were influencing high school students' educational decisions. Data collected were vital in ensuring that schools' efforts to increase student achievement were not undermining student success by impeding self- motivation, and, thus increasing the drop-out rate in Mississippi. A 23-item student attitude survey with a 5-point Likert scale format was utilized to gather data from 168 high school students at two high schools along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Data were collected and analyzed with respect to various subgroups: students' attitudes toward the classes and teachers, implementation of the SATPs, and the effect of the SATPs on students' educational decisions. Conclusions about students' attitudes toward the SATPs and the effect on students' educational decisions were extracted by the researcher. The use of discriminant function analysis on the data collected revealed that several students were affected by the taking of three SATPs simultaneously. As a result, students changed their educational decisions and decided to drop out.