STANDARDIZED TESTS: NOT AN ACCURATE MEASUREMENT OF STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
The standardized test has been a fixture in The United States’ educational system since the mid-1800s (“Standardized Tests”). Former President of the American Educational Research Association, W. James Popham, defines a standardized test as “any test that’s administered, scored, and interpreted in a standard, predetermined manner” (“Standardized Tests”). Although these tests have been a part of our schools for more than 150 years, as a method of measuring student achievement, standardized tests do not provide a valid interpretation of student learning.
In 2002 standardized testing became an even more integral part of the American education system, due to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was enacted during the George W. Bush Administration with bipartisan support (Davidson). The No Child Left Behind Act “. . . mandated annual testing in reading and math (and later science) in Grades 3 through 8 and again in 10th Grade” (“Standardized Tests”). The stakes were now greater than ever, and several potential problems immediately rose to the surface. Critics noted the need to address the tests’ outdated format; the tests’ bias against minorities; the external and emotional factors that affect performance; and the pressure on teachers to teach primarily to the test (“Standardized Tests”).
A major issue with standardized testing is how outdated the idea and format are in today’s technological society. The idea of a multiple-choice test came from Frederick J. Kelly in 1914. The nation needed to find a fast and easy way to deal with its growing student population; Kelly created what is known as “. . . the Kansas Silent Reading Test, sometimes called the ‘item-response’ or ‘bubble’ test” (Davidson). This original multiple-choice standardized test was loosely modeled after Henry Ford and his production of the Model T car. It was felt that if cars could be massed produced, so could our children’s testing. The No Child Left Behind Act requires tests, most of which are modeled after Kelly’s test (Davidson). Our nation has progressed tremendously since the age of the Ford Model T car, yet we continue to use antiquated testing methods. The nation’s educational leaders need, in 2013, to re-evaluate using standardized testing as a measure of achievement and bring assessment into “the interactive digital age” (Davidson).
Another major problem with the standardized test is the bias found in the test questions. Even the format of standardized tests is biased. It has been proven that the format of a multiple-choice question is easier for male students to comprehend (“Standardized Tests”). Data shows that females’ score lower on standardized tests, yet they earn higher grades in college (Carter). Minorities are also affected by these tests. All students are expected to have the same level of knowledge and ability even though some students are facing adversity and may not be up to the standards of the white officials who write these tests (Carter). The biases do not stop there; they also affect the scores of the poor. Students who come from low-income homes do not have the resources for tutoring or extra help that students from middle class or wealthy families have (Carter). As a result, “the poor certainty do not score as highly on average as wealthy students” (Carter). These tests can determine the course of our lives, and no one should have the upper hand in a nation where equality is a cornerstone of its beliefs.
Along with family backgrounds, the emotions and nerves students experience while taking tests prevent standardized tests from being adequate measures of students’ achievement. There are many other factors that go into taking an exam, especially one as important as a standardized test, other than the knowledge and understanding of the material. According to school administrator Derrick Meador, “Standardized testing evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day and does not take into account external factors.” Some students are simply not good test takers. These students are overwhelmed by the idea of a test, and they develop test anxiety and stress (Meador). Test anxiety can hinder the performance of a student even though they are more than capable of answering the questions correctly (Meador). Nerves can also affect a student’s performance on a standardized test, especially if this test can affect their future (Meador). “According to education researcher Gregory J. Cizek, anecdotes abound ‘illustrating how testing . . . produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both’” (“Standardized Tests” 3). Personally, I have suffered from both test anxiety and test related stress. I am an honors student at my high school, and I have suffered through standardized tests since elementary school. I am the first to admit I am not a good test taker, especially when the test influences my class placement or college acceptance.
The atmosphere within the classroom is also affected by standardized testing. Teachers have had to alter their teaching methods since standardized testing became mandatory in 2002. “NCLB tests are drastically narrowing the curriculum” (“Standardized Tests”). Teachers are forced to “teach to the tests” (“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing”). This means they are not teaching information that is not on the tests, which may leave out vital parts of the curriculum (“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing”). This does not provide students with the opportunity to use higher-level thinking and analytical skills. It is also a hindrance to student creativity, and leaves little time for teachers to utilize different teaching styles. The narrowing of the curriculum creates a lackluster and boring environment for the students (Meador) and they are not being taught to the level they deserve.
Interestingly, these tests have not improved the education or achievements of America’s students. “After NCLB passed in 2002, the US slipped from 18th in the world in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading” (“Standardized Tests”). Policy and standardized test makers believe these tests are necessary for predicting the future of students, yet the “National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working [. . .] ‘policymakers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education’” (“Standardized Tests”). Clearly, these tests do not show the achievements and potential of students efficiently; our nation’s educational system is falling in the ranks of the world. “Institutions of education should be preparing our kids for their future–not our past. In the Internet age, we are saddled with an educational system that was designed for the industrial age, modeled on mass production and designed for efficiency, not for high standards” (Davidson).
Carter, Chris. “The Case Against Standardized Tests.” The Case Against Standardized Tests–Article by Chris Carter. Chris Carter, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.
Davidson, Cathy N. “A Model T Test in the Internet Age.” Washington Post. 25 Sept. 2011: B.5. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.
Meador, Derrick. “Standardized Testing.” About.com. About.com Teaching, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing.” Education Bug. EducationBug.org, 28 Aug. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.
“Standardized Tests.” ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.