In any conversation involving education, one of the most important issues that arise is standardized testing. For many students, tests cause stress, anxiety attacks, and the fear of failure that can lead to depression or shame. Many people fear failure because of what their friends or family members might think of them. Standardized testing is one of the most important components of the American education system.
It is supposed to grade students on the basic level of knowledge to determine the effectiveness of teaching methods and the levels of students’ knowledge acquisition. Despite the widespread use of this system, 72% of educators believe that standardized testing is not an accurate method for determining the level of knowledge acquired by learners. Testing is a core component of the education system. However, there is a need to reevaluate how it is done.
Students learn differently because they have different needs. Therefore, they should be evaluated conceptually and through practical application rather than through the use of tests that require more memorization of information and comprehension.
An ineffective performance-measurement tool
According to a report released by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, many teachers believe that standardized tests have insignificant value about measuring the actual performance of students in school. The report was based on a survey that involved more than 10,000 teachers in public schools. The survey found out that only a small portion of the teachers (28%) considered standardized testing as an important component of evaluating student performance (Rebora 14).
The report stated that only 26% of the teachers surveyed believed that standardized tests represent an accurate reflection of students’ knowledge (Rebora 14). The low value placed on tests was reflected in the finding that only 45% of students take tests seriously. The teachers stated that they considered formative assessments, class participation, and completion of class assignments as more important aspects of evaluating the quality of learning (Rebora 14).
85% of the teachers suggested that the level of growth achieved by students throughout the course should be factored in when gauging their performance (Rebora 14). Many states are making tests harder to align with the new Common Core Standards that many have embraced. Tests are not only used to evaluate students but also to teachers. In that regard, they have become harder and more complex.
Many students, parents, and teachers are experiencing anxiety attacks and stress because of changes in the testing criteria. According to Feeney and Freeman (84), standardized tests administered to kindergarten children affect their confidence and cause unwarranted stress. Teachers are also under stress because their teaching methods have to align with the methods recommended by school administrators. The methods used have to guarantee high performance in tests. Otherwise, the teacher could lose his/her job or get demoted for poor performance. The tests have added a lot of pressure on teachers and students because of the expectation to work harder to perform better (Kohn 44).
Tests do not match contemporary learning and teaching
One of the main weaknesses of standardized tests is that they do not match contemporary teaching and learning goals as well as the skills needle to succeed in life (Dolezalek 39). In contemporary society, the rate of globalization and technological change is so high that traditional methods of instruction are not as effective as they used to be three decades ago (Tanner and Evans 6). Standardized tests do not value certain aspects of learning and living such as critical and creative thinking (Dolezalek 39).
The skills needed for the attainment of success and survival in today’s society cannot be assessed using standardized tests because they are too limited in scope to capture all the important aspects (Rebora 14). Standardized tests ignore the complexity of teaching and learning and reduce the acquisition of knowledge into the ability to choose one among multiple choices. Testing is not irrelevant or outdated. However, the form in which it is currently carried out is ineffective because it does not capture core functions of learning such as creativity and critical thinking (Dolezalek 41). Standardized tests are an unreliable means of evaluating students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach.
As mentioned earlier, students learn and gain knowledge differently. Some learn visually while others learn through practical application. Standardized tests do not put the principle of differentiated instruction and learning into consideration (Greenleaf 51). An effective testing system would incorporate various aspects of student evaluation that address the different learning needs and styles of students (Dolezalek 44). For example, the likelihood of students who learn well visually and practically passing standardized tests is very low. In that regard, standardized tests are unfair and discriminative.
Creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills are sidelined
Three of the most important skills that are required for success in today’s highly globalized world are critical thinking, complex problem solving, and creativity. Standardized tests are ineffective in determining whether students have gained these skills during their learning or not. Technological changes and globalization have introduced a new “profession” known as entrepreneurship. Many people are opting to pursue their passions and talents rather than pursuing education and seeking employment.
The aforementioned skills are very important in the field of entrepreneurship, and schools need to develop methods of determining whether students possess them (Greenleaf 53). Standardized tests are limited in scope because creativity is not valued, the answers to questions are fixed and there is no room for students to exercise their creativity (Dolezalek 64). An alternative to multiple-choice questions in standardized tests would be the development of an evaluation model that includes aspects such as classwork, projects, completion of assignments, and participation in-class activities (Greenleaf 60).
That model would capture important aspects of learning such as the ability to express oneself, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, and growth. An effective testing system would involve evaluating the level of growth a student has attained throughout learning as well as the skills they have acquired (Kamenetz 64). Standardized tests are unfair to teachers who dedicate their time and effort to help students grow and to students who work hard only to be frustrated by poor grades that do not reflect their learning proficiency (Kamenetz 57). The content of standardized tests is usually insignificant and of little importance outside school settings.
Tests do not value diversity
Diversity is one of the major constants in the education system. Students come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, they learn differently, and they have diverse learning needs (Greenleaf 63). Other diversities that are found among learners who take standardized tests include cultural backgrounds, English proficiency, past experiences, and family experiences. All these factors play important roles in how well students acquire knowledge.
Standardized tests treat all students as equals about their learning styles and capabilities (Greenleaf 64). For example, students from low socio-economic backgrounds are at a disadvantage because, in addition to developing tests, test companies also create courses and programs to help students prepare (Greenleaf 66). Therefore, learners who cannot afford to enroll for such programs and courses, or hire a tutor, encounter many difficulties during tests. In many cases, preparation for standardized tests is expensive because of the need to hire a tutor or take a program to guarantee good performance.
On the other hand, schools in rich neighborhoods get more funding than schools in low socio-economic areas and can afford to prepare for tests and guarantee their students good grades. Unless standardized testing is reevaluated, students in low socio-economic areas will continue to be at a disadvantage and perform poorly (Greenleaf 85).
Emphasis on grades rather than knowledge acquisition
The American education system places so much emphasis on education that the acquisition of knowledge and skills is seen as a secondary goal in education (Kohn 32). The primary goal is to prepare for tests to get good grades. Teachers spend a lot of time preparing students for tests that they forget about the primary goal of education, which is to teach students how to make decisions, think critically and creatively, and solve problems (Kamenetz 66). In many schools, extracurricular activities are excluded from learning programs because they are not considered important aspects of learning (Tanner and Evans 6).
On the other hand, many schools do not take their students on field trips because they do not consider them necessary. Focus on certain disciplines such as mathematics and languages leaves little time for other important activities that are great learning avenues for students (Kohn 36). Instead of teaching students how to learn, many schools teach them how to take tests. The situation has been worsened by the fact that students are judged based on their test scores (Tanner and Evans 7).
For example, a student has to attain a certain grade or test score to be admitted into certain colleges or study programs. The use of test scores to admit students to college has undermined the importance of learning because many students focus on getting certain grades rather than acquiring knowledge (Kohn 44). Admission into a certain college or degree program is more important than acquiring knowledge and skills that are needed to thrive in today’s world of rapid technological changes, entrepreneurship, and stiff competition. Teachers do not teach students for empowerment but to prepare them to take tests (Kamenetz 67).
This approach compromises the learning potential of students and promotes a lack of interest and creativity in learning. Teachers are always under pressure to prepare their students for tests that they forget to instill into them important life skills that are useful after leaving school. Standardized tests encourage the embracement of a short-sighted approach to learning (Kohn 48). Teachers lack the incentives to include any material that is not included in tests even though it might have beneficial value outside school settings (Kamenetz 69). Students rarely get time to gain new knowledge because most of their time is spent either taking tests or preparing for tests.
For example, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) only tests mathematics, reading and science, and excludes other equally important disciplines such as physical education, art, and social studies. Such legislation favors certain disciplines and as a result, encourages teachers and students to focus more on them at the expense of others.
Standardized tests do not reflect reality
According to a survey, many schools administer tests to receive federal funding and fulfill the wishes of administrators in the education system (Kohn 56). However, the tests are meaningless because they do not provide feedback on how to help students perform better. In many instances, the results of standardized tests are given back to teachers and students months later without recommendations on how to improve test scores. Also, they do not provide information on what individual students have learned to enable teachers to adjust their teaching methods accordingly. The tests are taken in artificial learning settings that distort time, discourage interaction, limit movement, and encourage individual work.
The real-world functions differently. Instead of preparing students for the real world, standardized tests acclimatize students to artificial environments that discourage the utilization of essential life skills (Kohn 60). Moreover, the tests offer students a false sense of security and competence. High grades are seen as a sign of competence in a certain field or discipline while low grades are seen as a reflection of lack of competence (Kamenetz 76).
However, high grades could have been achieved through the memorization of material for the sake of tests. In that case, students with good memories get high grades because of their ability to store and reproduce information during tests. Life requires skills such as understanding, compassion, and open-mindedness. These skills are acquired through the acquisition of knowledge ad practice. Standardized tests deny students the opportunity to utilize the various methods of learning that prepare them for life after school.
Learning is a challenging undertaking that takes a lot of time and effort. Learners have many demanding responsibilities that keep them occupied all the time. Therefore, they do not need the added stress of standardized testing. Teachers can easily monitor their students’ progress because they spend a lot of time with them and can evaluate their improvement throughout the year. When 72% of teachers don’t believe in the accuracy of standardized testing, it is time to reevaluate their effectiveness.
Students have different learning needs and styles. Therefore, they acquire knowledge differently. An effective testing model would include all the various learning methods to promote equality and address the issue of differentiated learning. Students and teachers spend a lot of time preparing for tests rather than acquiring knowledge that could be useful in life outside school settings. Society judges people based on their test scores. For example, admission into colleges and higher institutions of learning takes place based on test scores.
Students are socialized to believe that test scores are the most important aspect of their education. Therefore, they do whatever they can to attain certain scores that guarantee admission into colleges of their choice. Unless the government reevaluates the standardized testing model, students will continue to waste valuable opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills that could be useful in life. Education is about empowering students to make good decisions, think critically, and practice their creativity rather than getting certain test scores to fulfill societal expectations and demands.
Dolezalek, Holly. Standardized Testing in Schools, New York: ABDO, 2008. Print.
Feeney, Stephanie, and Nancy Freeman. “Standardized Testing in Kindergarten.” Young Children. 69.1(2014): 84-88. Web.
Greenleaf, Phyllis. I’d Rather Be Learning: How Standardized Testing Leaves Learning Behind and What We Can Do. New York: Lulu.com, 2006. Print.
Kamenetz, Anya. The Test: Why our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing-But You Don’t Have to Be. New York: Public Affairs, 2015. Print.
Kohn, Alfie. The Case against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000. Print.
Rebora, Anthony. “Teachers Place Little Value on Standardized Testing. “ Education Week. 31.26 (2012): 14. Web.
Tanner, John, and Elayne Evans. “Point/Counterpoint.” Learning & Leading with Technology. 39.1 (2011): 6-7. Web.