Standardized Tests, Standardized Students:
Teaching to the Test in Middle School ELA
This classroom ethnography explores the way standardized testing is affecting language use, linguistic development, and broader sociocultural socialization of middle school English Language Arts (ELA) students. It addresses the existing gaps in understanding of how students’ socialization, not just curricular learning, is affected by the language of testing, standardized English. The research draws from transcribed audio recordings of classroom observations, interviews with the teacher, and secondary literature to conduct an ethnography using a critical sociolinguistic lens. Fostered by high stakes testing and created by curricular programs targeted at “turn around schools,” standardized English is a modern tool to reproduce existing social hierarchies. It constrains what content to which students are exposed, produces narrow definitions of students’ roles in classroom and society, and encourages students to reproduce existing role/identity performances, and creates an incentive system meant to measure achievement but which really measures acquiescence to sociocultural elites’ demands of the marginalized. In order to effectively subvert today’s oppressive educational practices, we must continue to address these specific ways students are taught to the test beyond just content. We must simultaneously make sure they still have access to standardized testing’s credentials, since test scores continue to be used to allow or deny access to educational, and subsequent economic, opportunities to students.