This study investigates the way students describe standardized testing through the use of qualitative research. Qualitative research is the key to further my study on standardized testing because it uses an individual's experiences and own words instead of a linear answer. Jackson, et al (2007) explains why qualitative research is the best method; he states "By design, the qualitative researcher will get much more information about a phenomenon" (p. 23). Qualitative research gives more life to a study and makes it relatable to the public.
A very important piece to my research study is choosing subjects. The demographics of this study will be freshman college students that have graduated in the past three years from a public high school located in the United States more specifically a metropolitan area in the North-Eastern part of the United States. I have chosen this demographic because the experience of dealing with standardized testing is fresh in their heads. Another reason is my study specifically focuses on standardized testing in public high schools in the United States. I will be recruiting my four participants the second week of November 2014 by texting them and informing them about my focus group. I will have my focus group as soon as possible to avoid confliction with finals week of my participants. I have chosen to have a four person focus group because I want to make sure the focus group remains orderly and by not having too many people this can be accomplished. Having a small focus group will also ensure that everyone has a chance to talk and share their ideas. During the focus group, I will be taking notes on the whole conversation.
For this focus group I will be using a structured interview process because my questions will be prepared beforehand and will be asked in the same order I wrote it. They will not change at all during the focus group and I will not be talking during the conversation on my focus group making it less of a friendly conversation. My research questions will be as follows:
- What are your thoughts and feelings on standardized testing?
- What have been your experiences with standardized testing?
- What if I told you, after the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002 which increased the funds going towards standardized testing, the United States slipped from 18th in the World in Math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading. Is that surprising? Why or why not?
- Do you think it is fair to judge a teacher depending on their students' scores on standardized tests? Why or why not?
- Do you know of any alternatives to standardized testing?
In preparation for my focus group, I conducted a pilot study to test out my questions. The results of my pilot study showed me that my interviewee was able to answer all my questions and understood all of them, and she did not feel uncomfortable at any point. As I was conducting my questions she was able to look back in her memories of high school and elementary school to answer the questions. I do not think that I will need any more questions because in the time given I was not able to ask all of my questions, so the timing was not bad. On a focus group scale, it will require more time perhaps thirty to forty minutes. I think one of my best questions was the first question “What are your thoughts and feelings on standardized testing?” My interviewee said the most for this question, she had a lot to say to the point she had to stop and organize her thoughts. I think the interview question that was the weakest is asking if it is surprising how the influx of money into standardized testing and how it lowered our academic status compared to the rest of the world. The fact that the question is kind of long confused my interviewee I might have to say it in a different tone or rephrase it, but none of these questions were bad enough to replace.
This pilot study reassured me that my questions were good enough to ask my focus group. One interesting issue that emerged from my pilot study was when one participant responded that they were okay with judging a teacher depending on their students' scores in standardized testing. When I conducted my focus group the very next day no one else responded the same way as my pilot study participant, but they did all agree on one answer amongst themselves. My pilot study participant argued her point very well by stating that if one teacher can teach their students to obtain a high test grade why can the rest of the teachers not do the same thing. She also believed that teachers sometimes need to be monitored just in case they were not doing their jobs and using their students' test scores was a fair way of doing so. It was a refreshing new way of looking at things!
Jackson, R., Drummond, D., & Camara S. (2007). What is qualitative
research. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 8(1), 21-28.