There is a great deal of controversy in the news and on television surrounding educational standardized testing. While testing has been used to determine progress for many years it has recently came under fire. The Federal Government dictates that all public schools must have specific levels of accountability where student progress is monitored. While there needs to be some level of monitoring, it must be implemented correctly. Testing has changed over the years, become more specific and some would say more difficult. There are a number of negatives associated with a general test to measure the intelligence of a student at any age. Along with various intervening variables there are many social, economic and other various issues to consider. This paper will examine the negatives associated with standardized testing and why it should be used cautiously in schools across the United States.
WHAT DOES TESTING REALLY TEST
Standardized testing is meant to determine the progress and improvement of schoolchildren over the academic year. It is generally given toward the end of the year to determine whether or not a student has made adequate progress. It is commonly associated with the level of intelligence that a child has, which can be inaccurate at many levels. If a test would only evaluate a person’s knowledge on a specific subject, then it would likely be an accurate test. Unfortunately there are various issues that must be considered when reviewing a student’s results. The academic subject tests that are given are not only measuring the child’s knowledge, but also their anxiety level, and various other educational barriers. This is because there is no way to “turn off” other factors that may be present while the student is taking the exam.
Children, like adults, can have anxiety regarding any test, and especially when it is associated with their passing of failing for the entire year. This places a great deal of pressure on the student and thereby can greatly decrease their performance ability. According to Paul, children commonly fill pressure that can lead to “crippling anxiety” thereby greatly reducing their performance ability (Paul 42). Because these tests are considered so important there is generally a great deal of emphasis and preparation required. Educational studies and class time is commonly dedicated solely to the passing the standardized tests, which leads to a deficit in the educational process. Rather than teaching for knowledge, students are typically bombarded with test information rather than receiving a healthy learning experience. This fact alone creates the question and concern of what the actual test is monitoring or measuring. Understanding that test anxiety and other barriers are present, it seems that the results may greatly be skewed. Feeling poorly, nervous or anxious can lead to a lower score. There is also the fact that students learn differently and will likely perform differently based on the type of test given. While students may not be able to put their knowledge to pen and paper they may have a good grasp with a hands on activity. When a student performs poorly they are labeled as deficient, when in all actuality they may only be deficient in the type of test that was administered, and not the content or material (Ashworth). Those educational labels not only influence the child for the school year, but also can have a lasting effect for many years to come. They may have to be placed in tutoring or special help, which makes them a target for ridicule throughout their academic career.
FINANCIAL AND POLICY DECISIONS
Standardized testing is mandated by the Federal government in order to make high stakes decisions about education (Lam 179). Schools and teachers are placed under great pressure for students to perform at their maximum, because it is required for their academic performance level and federal monies. This pressure is passed on from school administration, to the teacher and thereby to the student. These decisions are made based on a school test score, which does not take into consideration the student, barriers or other information. This unfortunately does not give an accurate picture of student or the teacher’s performance. There is no consideration given for barriers such as language, minority students or those simply affected by great pressure from the actual test itself (Andrade, Huff & Brooke 46). Schools or students should not be penalized based on scoring that does not reflect an accurate representation. Other considerations should be made for the overall progress and well-being of the school, not only one test score.
Another problem commonly associated with standardized testing is the fact that it is subjective. Those that create the test have the power to determine what is or isn’t important regarding a student’s educational progress. Test questions may be very specific, not relevant or realistic to be taught in the classroom. This creates a disadvantage for the student taking the test and can greatly affects the results (Sadker). Test questions may be confusing, biased or potentially even incorrect thereby leading to a great hardship for the student. Questions may also be written toward the more mainstream student, which can create difficulty for students with different backgrounds or practical knowledge. An example may be a student that is from another country and has difficulty understanding a phrase that may be synonymous with the United States. The student may not have been exposed to that particular phrase because they have a different learning or personal perspective. If they get an answer wrong based on their background or cultural learning, it may not have been a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of understanding, based on their personal experience. Again, the test is not accurately testing only the amount of knowledge that a student has, but rather a variety of issues.
In conclusion, the difficulty and problems with standardized testing is not a reason to cease all testing. It is rather important to understand and identify the problems as well as issues that can stem from placing such great emphasis on one test. Students should not be labeled or grouped based on their test results alone. Instead testing should be used as a general indicator and guide, however progress should be examined by addressing all intervening variables. Without consideration, testing can lead to an unfair disadvantage for students, which places them at higher risk. Students who assume that they are not as smart as their peers may ultimately perform poorly throughout their academic studies. Failing a test or being labeled can greatly affect a child’s self-esteem and ultimately their motivation to learn. Educators and administrators should consider all factors in order to make an informed decision about the progress of their students. Without that consideration and knowledge the educational system as well as the child is at risk.
Lam, Tony C. M. “Testability: A Critical Issue In Testing Language Minority Students With
Standardized Achievement…” Measurement & Evaluation In Counseling & Development
(American Counseling Association) 26.3 (1993): 179.
Andrade Heidi, Huff K, Brooke G. Assessing Learning. Education Digest [serial online].
Ashworth, Kenneth. “Standardized Testing: A Defense”. Education Digest 56.3 (1990):
Paul, Annie Murphy. “Relax, It’s Only A Test.” Time 181.5 (2013): 42-45.
Sadker, David Miller. “Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not
Working”. Accessed Online 29 March 2013 [http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Test_Problems_Seven/?page=2]