The Role of Standardized Testing in the American Education System
SAT, ACT, PSSA, CDC, and the list could go on and on.
Now, more than ever standardized tests are used in the American education system to determine the futures of millions of students, teachers, and schools. There are tests to determine which colleges students can get into, tests to determine what classes you can take in high school, and tests that show where you fall among your classmates. One study from Columbia University reported that standardized tests are beneficial in school because they “hold teachers and schools accountable”. Additionally they can be helpful to collect ” data on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs, etc.”(“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing” 1), the basic demographic. While standardized testing may be a useful tool to gather statistics, it should not be used to determine how much a student has really learned, because it neglects to test areas like critical thinking and reasoning.
Additionally, evaluating the quality of an education shouldn’t be based solely on the scores that students receive on tests. Teachers can spend months preparing students, but if a student decides not to try on a test, it will reflect poorly on the school even though it is the student’s fault. Standardized tests put a label on students in early elementary school that can stick with them the entire way through high school up to college. To really determine how smart a student is, other areas should be looked at. Grades can reflect improvement, work ethic, flexibility, and how willing students are to challenge themselves by taking harder classes.
Overall, standardized tests don’t actually measure what they were created to do, which is the quality of education a student is receiving, and a reflection of how the teacher is doing. They are simply statistic-gathering tools. As past or present students, we have all experienced the terrifying feeling of being judged and compared to our classmates. That sinking pit in your stomach, or feeling of elation because of a test score is all too familiar. Standardized test scores can have long-lasting psychological impacts, that extend beyond a student’s years in schools. One study conducted by Harvard‘s Graduate School of Education showed that by labeling a student as advanced, proficient, or failing, “may have an effect on the student’s future educational attainment”(Anderson). What this means is that by telling a student they are failing, it will have negative effects on them, like lower work ethic, or even dropping out of school completely. By telling a student they are advanced, this could have a positive effect on the student, such as making them want to challenge themselves, and to set high goals. While I think for the most-part that this is true, I don’t think it applies to all cases. By telling a student they are failing, it could motivate them to work harder.
By telling a student they are advanced, this could cause them to become lackadaisical concerning their schoolwork. I know many people who are extremely smart, but are also extremely lazy. Standardized tests can make students feel inadequate and stupid if the “right” results aren’t obtained. One example of this is an experiment with IQ tests from Harvard professor and psychologist, Robert Rosenthal. Rosenthal gave a group of students a simple IQ test, but put a cover on the test booklet that said “‘Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition” (Rosenthal), making it seem extremely important.
He then told the students that this test would determine which kids were “special”, and would see a high boost in IQ over their years in school. After they took the test, Rosenthal randomly selected students who he told were the “special” ones. He found that “if teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ”(Rosenthal). This experiment proves that standardized tests can have long-lasting psychological effects on students. There was nothing actually different about these students, but they thought they were smart, so they became smarter.
The students became more successful than some of their other classmates, just because of a fake IQ test. The major use of standardized testing is to evaluate the quality of education that a student is receiving. The idea is that if a student is receiving a good education, then they will recieve a good test score. This logic is very flawed because it doesn’t take into account the differences between schools and people. An article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development wrote that standardized tests are like “one-size-fits-all garments, sometimes one size really can’t fit all” (Popham). Different schools have different curriculum, and different goals that they want their students to achieve.
The companies that produce tests try to make them so they can fit a broad range of schools. This just doesn’t work because while schools in each state are given a baseline curriculum, each school is slightly different from the next. Personally, I have found this to be extremely true. While talking to a family member currently in high school, we discussed the order that our respective schools teach the sciences. At State College, biology is taught in tenth grade, but at my cousin’s school in Bald Eagle, they were taught biology in ninth grade. How could a freshman from State High expect to compete with a freshman from Bald Eagle on a standardized test about biology? In this sense, standardized tests just don’t work.
There is an unequal playing field. As Ken Robinson said in his TED talk on education, the “dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing” (Robinson). Even though logically standardized tests don’t make sense, they are still heavily used. There so much pressure on schools and teachers to achieve the acceptable scores, that school is not really about actually learning information, but obtaining the ability to get good test scores. School was created so that kids could learn, and eventually become valuable members in the workforce.
We all know those kids, who just don’t care about school. The ones who never do homework or study for a test. It’s kids like these that can throw off standardized tests. Teachers can try their best at teaching them, but they never learn. In this aspect, teachers and schools shouldn’t be blamed for bad test scores if it is the students who aren’t trying their best. This can’t be prevented by teachers.
Standardized tests just assess how much information a student can pack into their brain, and then spew back out onto a piece of paper. If a student decides not to participate then there will be negative impacts on the school. This proves that standardized testing is not an effective tool at evaluating education because some factors can’t be controlled by teachers, and different curriculums can create an unfair playing field. Some might argue that the pros of standardizing testing greatly outweigh the cons. As mentioned earlier, the list titled “Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing” from Columbia University, makes some strong points about why they are beneficial to our education system.
It lists that standardized tests being “objective in nature”(“Pros and Cons of Standardized testing” 1) as being one of the top reasons for being profitable to students, especially in college admissions. Yes, while a computer might grade the test itself, the results will be given back to teachers and parents. As seen in Robert Rosenthal’s study, people’s perception can turn highly objective tests into highly subjective tests. It’s at this point that test results are no longer just statistics, but personal pieces of information that we take to heart. This shows they are not truly objective towards students.
Another reason listed was that “standardized testing gives teachers guidance to help them determine what to teach students and when to teach it”.While standardized tests might provide a good timeline to teach, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teachers get to choose what they teach. The majority of schools have a state-mandated curriculum, that varies from subject-to-subject in flexibility. Subjects like math, have certain ideas and principles that need to be taught, so that students can progress on to the next level. Many art classes are much more flexible, because the teachers get to choose and change the projects the students get to do.
It proves that not all teachers are lucky and can choose their curriculum, and also shows that standardized tests are bigger influences than many think. This creates marginalization in schools. This is an important topic to think and talk about because it is one of the biggest debates about the American education system today. There is an increasing shift towards a test-focused education system, versus actually making sure that students are learning information that can benefit them for the future. Because of this system, there is no real benefit from standardized testing, and puts unnecessary stress on students to do well on tests that really have no meaning, yet can determine their future and affect the rest of their lives.
These tests not only affect students, but can put the jobs of teachers in jeopardy too. When you think about standardized tests, it seems crazy that a scantron can determine so much for so many people. More time should be spent on making sure that students are actually learning, not just being taught how to be fact-repeating robots. As one teacher wrote, it seemed sad “asking our kids to invest the best of their academic passion in a poorly designed standardized test rather than in a science fair project or a school play or an actual mountain to climb”(Almagor). Works Cited Robinson, Ken.
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