Standardized Testing

Standardized testing that has appeared in support of the effort at mass education in the mid 1800s continues to dominate the US educational system, causing some to describe Americans as a nation of “standardized-testing junkies” (Sacks, 2000). Indeed, large-scale testing has enabled the creation of more or less objective criteria for performance assessment nation-wide. On the other hand, it is this ‘more or less’ that arouses a storm of criticism from opponents of testing.

One of the problems associated with testing is that teachers and students are forced into spending class time budget on test preparation as opposed to real learning. It has been estimated that “in some Arizona school systems, for example, testing required by the state and individual districts already consumes 20% of a student’s total time in class” (Jorgenson et al., 2002). This time waste will likely be exacerbated with the passage of No Child Left Behind Act that will take testing to grades 3 to 8. Time spent on preparation for the test disrupts the normal flow of the course and makes the teacher devote time and effort to activities that are unrelated to the subject matter under investigation. Test drills are typically rather monotonous and thus time spent in test preparation can be used more effectively on creative tasks that will improve the student’s thinking abilities. Thus, tests do not improve performance – in fact, they decrease it through consuming time necessary for more meaningful activities.

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Besides, testing often leads a desperate rush for results, increasing “pressure and stress on children, which sets them up for failure, lowered self-esteem and potential health risks” (Allison et al., 1998). The time of the school year spent in preparation for the test is full of stress for all participants of the process – teachers, children and parents. Too much of a child’s future depends on test scores, a responsibility often too grave for the young minds. This pressure can act depressing with regard to the child’s school performance as one will find it difficult to devote the same time and effort to other school tasks when test preparation takes up all the necessary time. This mounting stress can also depress the child’s performance in the test itself, which may deprive universities and colleges of some talented students who failed to demonstrate the proper resilience at this very young age – not the proof that they will not develop the ability to withstand the test later on.

Tests have already been accused of favoring students of certain types and discriminating against those raised in poorer neighborhoods. Standardized tests in virtue of several characteristics are not able to measure all types of abilities. They are not suited to students who need to take more time than others to solve the same problems but can offer more original or interesting solutions in the end. Those who demonstrate outstanding creative abilities offset by weaker numerical skills than others are also in a disadvantageous position. Students then have to learn “exactly what appears on the test” (Allison et al., 1998). This means that their knowledge outside the scope of topics and skills evaluated on the test is bound to be limited. The specificity of test requirements have led to the emergence of concepts of good and poor test-takers, children who do well or poorly on the tests as compared to their real knowledge level.

Some proponents of standardized testing have come forward with proposals to put the school funding in direct proportion to the test results manifested by the school graduates. This plan can induce the school boards and administration to redirect their efforts switching to subjects that form the basic skills for tests. In contrast, art will be neglected as well as dance and other subjects that serve to develop skills not as easily measurable. In San Fransisco, for example, worries persist that “the increasing focus on core subjects such as math and reading (often in the form of tests required for high-school graduation) has already reduced the funding for arts education in many school districts” (JOPERD, 2001).

The child taking the test is totally at the mercy of the computer and the compiler of the tests. Validity of test assignments is sometimes questionable, and mistakes are possible in the machine processing of the results. The computer cannot deal with individual situations, and putting everybody into a standardized process can produce similarly standardized results. People are vastly different, with unique abilities, and this individual variety cannot be captured by any test. When a child feels that the future depends solely on the test scores, the kid is not encouraged to develop unique and individual traits that can turn today’s student into a brilliant scholar or artist of tomorrow.

Evidence points to the fact that test results are in close relationship to the parents’ income levels. Thus, “someone taking the SAT can expect to score an extra thirty test points for every $10,000 in his parents’ yearly income” (Sacks, 2000). The correlation between parental income and test scores can be explained through the superior level of schools attended by children whose parents are in the high income bracket. Tests serve to perpetuate the distinction between the rich and the poor, taking this distinction to a different level – educational and translating it into a subtler difference based on perceived inferior performance of kids from poorer families. Alternative measures such as much-advocated performance management could have improved the situation by testing different abilities from those measured in the test.

Summing it up, standardized testing does not improve school academic standards. Instead, it leads to diversion of attention from vital areas of the curriculum to allot time to strenuous drilling aimed at preparation for the tests. Standardization inevitably leads to deterioration of individual approach, the one aimed at harmonious development of an individual’s complex skills. Therefore, tests have to be used sparingly in school curriculum. They are probably good for gauging simple problem-solving assignments but fail in more complicated issues. Tests should not be given priority in school and university education as they are unable to replace other testing methods.