Last Updated 13 Apr 2020

The Effects of Standardized Tests on Education

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Standardized tests have been debated and argued for as many years as they have existed. It is worthwhile to look at some of the arguments for both sides and find out if there can be some middle ground. Two important factors of standardized tests are the way the tests are administered and how the results are handled. These two issues may be more important than the tests themselves. There must be ways to have accountability in most areas of society. In schools, we need to know if teachers are teaching and if students are learning.

There has to be some way to judge whether the system is working. Standardized tests can show students’ strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, teachers then develop strategies to address the needs of the student that the test has outlined. These tests can help predict selection at college, justification for scholarships, and selection for employment. They can document achievement, both for the student and the teacher. “The fundamental ideas behind the construction and use of tests are not beyond our understanding”.

Says Andrew J. Strenio Jr. These tests “certify that the examinee does have the requisite skills and competencies needed to graduate from high school programs, practice in an occupation or profession, or receive elevated status within a profession”. (Defending Standardized Testing; Phelps, Richard. We could not function in society without some basic standards and these standards need to be uniform throughout our society. Chauncey and Dobbin write in their book Testing: It’s Place in Education Today:“Every school and almost every teacher uses a test at some point in the process of planning instruction that will fit the student and his capacities”.

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Standardized testing is just a larger scale for comparison. It offers feedback to the student and the school system about where achievement is in certain areas. But it should not be the only criteria for what we consider success. There is a great deal of criticism of standardized tests. Making test scores public is a way to see them as indicators of school quality. This has increased their value 100% but not in a particularly good way. Officials use an assortment of bribes and threats to coerce everyone into concentrating on test results.

If the scores are high, the bribes may include bonuses for teachers and schools. Students may receive food, tickets to theme parks or sporting events, exemptions from in-class final exams, and even scholarships. The threats include loss of funding or accreditation for schools, while students may be held back a year or denied a high school diploma if they don’t test well, regardless of their over-all academic record. All together, these tactics are known as ‘high stakes’ testing.

There may not be data on this, but Alfie Kohn states “the people who work most closely with kids are the most likely to understand the limits of standardized tests. ” He says that “support for testing seems to grow as you move away from the students, going from teacher to principal to central office administrator to school board member to state board member, state legislator, and governor. ” 3 Standardized Minds by Peter Sacks talks about the unquestioned position of standardized testing which he terms “an unhealthy and enduring obsession”.

He also writes about the cost of all this testing. “The amount Americans spend taking tests, preparing for tests, scoring tests, and running magnificently elaborate testing programs in schools, colleges and the workplace is stunning, probably running in the billions of dollars each year. It is possible that Americans may be taking as many as 600 million standardized tests annually, or more than two tests per year for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Unreasonable demands of ‘higher scores’ from schools has many negative results. Alfie Kohn says “Teachers are beginning to tire of the pressure, the skewed priorities, and the disrespectful treatment as they are forced to implement a curriculum largely determined by test manufacturers or state legislators. ” A hostile environment develops as teachers feel the need to prove that low scores were not their fault. An unhealthy competition is set up between teachers.

High-stakes testing has led to widespread cheating. Recently, Atlanta schools cheating scandal has been front page news. An article in Substance News by George N. Schmidt on Dec. 26, 2010 details the depth and breadth of the CRCT scandal. The article is part of series that has examined the statistically improbable gains in test scores in Atlanta schools and how school district officials responded to them. The money spent on this investigation could probably build a new school.

The expectation of higher scores means teachers are more likely to “teach to the test’ and become drill sergeants. Other things like fine arts fall to the wayside as math and science are emphasized. From the book Standardized Minds: “Researchers have found consistently that one of the most damaging effects of large-scale, big-stakes standardized testing in schools has been to: (1) oversimplify what’s taught in school; and (2) to severely constrict what is taught to only those items most likely to appear on an upcoming standardized test. There is blame and consequence to cheating, whether it is outright erasures on tests or days of teaching the test. But it should help us to rethink the pressures on ‘high-stakes’ testing. Maybe the Atlanta cheating scandal can show us that our response to the test score is way out of line. School districts, schools, teachers, and students should not have to be tested under such extreme pressure. This threatening atmosphere makes cheating a likelihood. Grades and test scores don’t tell us what we really want to know about somebody.

The Case Against Standardized Testing includes a list offered by educator Bill Ayers: “Standardized tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and functions, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning”. Maybe it is not a ‘bad test’ but how the results are handled.

Daniel Koretz in Measuring Up talks about the limits of test scores. He says “What education leaders want is a fair, straight-forward measure of school performance, to be able to monitor schools and hold them accountable. The problem is that we tend to overestimate what tests can do. Tests are not designed to summarize all that students and schools can do”. By the same token Andrew Strenio states that “Standardized tests convey an illusion of much greater precision than they are actually capable of achieving”.

Learning is a process and process is defined as movement, a series of actions or changes. That is what makes it hard to precisely measure. So maybe we should not pin so much on standardized tests. Instead, make them a component of the over-all measurement of quality achievement. Valerie Janesick states in The Assessment Debate that “Learning does not take place by sheer dumb chance or luck . It takes place by design”. She makes reference to Grant Wiggins saying “the goal is not instant reform or instant knowing but rather a continuous process that results in understanding”.

Priscilla Vail states “Above all, parents, students, and educators must remember that a test only shows what one person did on one exercise on one day. A standardized test score is not a license to live or a measure of deserving oxygen and space on our planet. ” The opportunity to demonstrate what you know can also be done with portfolio assessment, group or individual projects, and take-home exams. We should strive to create schools that help students flourish. We should also strive to hire administrators who can develop and implement new criteria for measuring achievement that could go along with the standardized tests.

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