Basically, standardized testing is a way to determine the academic achievement and potential of students. But when the skills of American students were ranked against others around the world, America didn’t even rank in the top tier.
When George W. Bush was president, he announced his No Child Left Behind program on his third day in office. With the addition of this program, federally mandated tests increased from six to 17.
Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, emphasized during his campaign the absurdity of heavy testing. But when he assumed office, he introduced his own initiative called the Common Core state standards. While there was nothing wrong with the concepts, the system is very flawed. A lot of the tests given are also very challenging but at the same time, they don’t really reflect a student’s ability.
Standardized testing has been implemented for over a decade, but according to studies, the achievement gap still hasn’t narrowed. In fact, students, parents and even teachers are opting out of the Common Core exams. The numbers are continuing to grow, and just recently, Missouri Legislature banned the test.
But why are legislators still pushing for standardized tests despite the protests? And why are parents, teachers and students not interested in taking them? Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing.
Advantages of Standardized Testing
1. A practical solution.
First off, most of the standardized tests are in multiple choice format. In other words, they are not complicated enough to explain and any student – no matter what level – can understand that they have to tick one of the boxes as their answer.
Also, given that tests are easy to implement, they save a lot of time too. Not a lot of time is wasted on giving explanations for why certain sections should be done like this and so. The instructions are fairly simple: choose the answer to the question based on the suggestions below.
2. Results are quantifiable.
When educators are able to quantify the achievement of students, they are able to identify proficiency levels. As such, they can easily identify the students who need remediation or advancement.
However, this is also one of the major complaints about testing: that it truly does not measure the actual skill of a student in a given subject. The outcry over the absurdity of standardized testing warranted it an 18-minute skewering on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. One of the most ludicrous points brought up was the inclusion of a story about a talking pineapple to which children had to answer questions after having gone through the piece.
3. Scoring automation.
With so many students at different grade levels taking the exam, it’s difficult for educators to get through them all. Now, that problem has been simplified through computerized testing – and even scoring.
Then again, computer issues – inability to log on and such – have delayed testing in certain schools across America. In fact, it’s become one of the complaints against standardized testing as well. Also, another complaint about the use of computers is the algorithm for evaluating student performance itself: it is just mysterious.
4. Not biased.
Since a computer handles the grading and all, there is no possible influence of a teacher on the exams. In the past, a teacher can make up their mind about a student’s skills based solely on their biases towards the child. But with computers, those powers are stripped from them and students can now be judged on what they have put on paper – no external factors involved.
5. Allows for comparison.
Educators can compare the results of examinations within the school or even compare it to other schools. Through this, teachers can assess which areas they need to improve on for the students. For example, students from their school may have scored lower in mathematics compared to a rival school. From there, teachers can focus on improving the math curriculum so students will score better next time.
6. Traces student progress.
Standardized tests are taken at certain levels, and over that time, educators can see the progress students have made. They either go into decline or improve tremendously. But whichever the case, teachers now have an idea how best they would respond to a child’s education needs.
Disadvantages of Standardized Testing
1. Questions are general in nature.
The tests do not really assess skill as the questions have to be generalized for the entire population. In short, the test items are not in conjunction with classroom skills and behavior. What standardized tests do is assess the general knowledge and understanding of students rather than their actual ability.
2. Questions are sometimes ridiculous.
Some of the ridiculousness was brought up in John Oliver’s show, and that included questions that were too difficult to comprehend. For instance, a teacher took the exam (not the exact one but something that was close to a legal standardized exam) and the test graded him as a poor reader. What’s worse, the teacher had a Master’s degree.
A fifth-grade teacher in New York also highlighted just how difficult some of the questions are. For example, only six students out of 17 finished an ELA test but the ones who didn’t finish were those the teacher considered avid readers. The teacher declared that “There was just far too much material on the test for them to get through and comprehend.” And also added, “The test isn’t designed for them to pass.”
3. Results doesn’t allow educators to update their instruction methods.
The questions on the test are general in nature, and it’s hard for teachers to know how to improve students’ understanding of a particular topic based on general information alone. What this does though is allowing teachers to “teach to the test” rather than educate students properly based on the needs of the classroom.
4. Scores are influenced by external factors like fatigue.
Students study hard for these exams. They study so hard that there are even instructions on what teachers should do if a student vomits on their test booklets. Students feel pressured taking these exams and sometimes their final scores are reflective not of their ability but of being influenced by other factors instead.