In my previous post containing the first step in getting transformative education into classrooms, I talked about how project-based learning is the future of our education system. In this post, I’d like to talk about the opposite of project-based learning, which is standardized testing.
While standardized testing can be a good thing, the fact that we put it as a priority in schools and essentially base a school’s and a student’s merit and worth off of it is not the right way to be using standardized testing. But before we take the plunge into the reasons why standardized testing is killing our schools, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of standardized testing.
According to ProCon.org, an unbiased, nonprofit educational organization, here are the main arguments for and against standardized testing:
Photo cred.: Gier Isene
- 93% of studies on student testing, including the use of large-scale and high-stakes standardized tests, found a “positive effect” on student achievement.
- Standardized tests are reliable and objective measures of student achievement.
- 20 school systems that “have achieved significant, sustained, and widespread gains” on national and international assessments used “proficiency targets for each school” and “frequent, standardized testing to monitor system progress.”
- Standardized tests are inclusive and non-discriminatory because they ensure content is equivalent for all students.
- China has a long tradition of standardized testing and leads the world in educational achievement.
- “Teaching to the test” can be a good thing because it focuses on essential content and skills, eliminates time-wasting activities that don’t produce learning gains, and motivates students to excel.
- Standardized tests are not narrowing the curriculum, rather they are focusing it on important basic skills all students needs to master.
- Increased testing does not force teachers to encourage “drill n’ kill” rote learning.
- Most parents approve of standardized tests.
- Testing is not too stressful for students.
- Most students believe standardized tests are fair.
- Most teachers acknowledge the importance of standardized tests and do not feel their teaching has been compromised.
- Standardized tests provide a lot of useful information at low cost, and consume little class time.
- Most teachers and administrators approve of standardized tests.
- The multiple-choice format used on standardized tests produces accurate information necessary to assess and improve American schools.
- Stricter standards and increased testing are better preparing school students for college.
- Teacher-graded assessments are inadequate alternatives to standardized tests because they are subjectively scored and unreliable.
- Cheating by teachers and administrators on standardized tests is rare, and not a reason to stop testing America’s children.
- Each state’s progress on NCLB tests can be meaningfully compared.
- State-mandated standardized tests help prevent “social promotion,” the practice of allowing students to advance from grade to grade whether or not they have met the academic standards of their grade level.
- Many objections voiced by the anti-testing movement are really objections to NCLB’s use of test results, not to standardized tests themselves.
- Physicians, lawyers, real-estate brokers and pilots all take high-stakes standardized tests to ensure they have the necessary knowledge for their professions.
- Standardized testing has not improved student achievement.
- Standardized tests are an unreliable measure of student performance.
- Standardized tests are unfair and discriminatory against non-English speakers and students with special needs.
- Standardized tests measure only a small portion of what makes education meaningful.
- “Teaching to the test” is replacing good teaching practices with “drill n’ kill” rote learning.
- NCLB tests are drastically narrowing the curriculum.
- Instruction time is being consumed by monotonous test preparation.
- Standardized tests are not objective.
- Standardized testing causes severe stress in younger students.
- Older students do not take NCLB-mandated standardized tests seriously because they do not affect their grades.
- Testing is expensive and costs have increased since NCLB, placing a burden on state education budgets.
- The billion dollar testing industry is notorious for making costly and time-consuming scoring errors.
- The multiple-choice format used on standardized tests is an inadequate assessment tool.
- America is facing a “creativity crisis,” as standardized testing and rote learning “dumb down” curricula and jeopardizes the country’s economic future.
- Finland topped the international education (PISA) rankings from 2001-2008, yet has “no external standardized tests used to rank students or schools.”
- Excessive testing may teach children to be good at taking tests, but does not prepare them for productive adult lives.
- Using test scores to reward and punish teachers and schools encourages them to cheat the system for their own gain.
- Standardized tests are an imprecise measure of teacher performance, yet they are used to reward and punish teachers.
- Each state develops its own NCLB standards and assessments, providing no basis for meaningful comparison.
- Open-ended questions on standardized tests are often graded by under-paid temporary workers with no educational training.
- Schools feeling the pressure of NCLB’s 100% proficiency requirement are “gaming the system” to raise test scores.
- An obsession with testing robs children of their childhoods.
While both sides have very well thought out arguments, I’d have to side with those who think that standardized testing should be taken out of the focus of our education system. Although I’d like to tell you that my argument is unbiased, it most certainly isn’t mainly because I grew up in the broken system where we were taught for the test and essentially nothing more.
Elementary school was great for me—I had A.L.E.R.T to get hands on with projects and teachers who really supported me and wanted me to learn for the knowledge, not the tests. However, once middle school started I became far more aware that we were being taught to take the tests instead of being taught to learn for the knowledge and understanding of the subjects.
One of the things I remember most about middle school was taking the PACT test at the end of the year to see how well I had “learned” what was being taught to me. After the test, my friends and I would gather around one of our desks and talk about how we did. It was always a competition even if we never actually said it was, and from then on all I wanted to do was score well on those tests to prove I had learned more than they did.
Except here’s the funny thing: even though I scored really well on the PACT test, I can’t remember a thing I was taught in middle school. Okay, that’s not completely true, I do remember a few things: like the difference between cirrus, cumulus, stratus, and nimbostratus clouds; what prevaricator means (it’s actually one of my favorite words now); and how to do some math problems with M&Ms (damn I loved those days). But that’s basically it, and I’m not kidding about that.
The problem with making testing the main focus in the classroom is that kids tend to just memorize what they need to know for the test and then forget it all. I know I did. There’s a huge difference between kids memorizing and learning, and while the two can intersect sometimes, mostly they’re worlds apart for students.
While I could address almost each and every pro and talk about how ridiculous those seem from a student’s perspective, I’m only going to address a couple right now.
Let’s start with #4 on the pro list: standardized tests are inclusive and non-discriminatory because they ensure content is equivalent for all students. Okay, as far as content goes, yes, I suppose that standardized tests are equivalent in testing each of the main subjects; however, standardized tests are not inclusive and non-discriminatory towards students. Every student has to take the same test for their grade no matter their skill level or disabilities. This means that those who aren’t doing as well as the other kids in their class are being scored on a test that they probably can barely comprehend if they’ve fallen behind for one reason or another.
Most people think that these students are just kids who don’t care about school and fall behind because of that, but in reality many of those kids aren’t getting the help they need at home to push them forward in school. Teachers can only do so much, guys, and it’s unfair to put it all on the teachers and simply ignore what the parents are doing in this situation. Every child has a different situation going on at home, and sometimes kids who are from lower class families don’t have the option of getting help from a parent because their mom or dad work three jobs just to keep them afloat. Yet, we continue to refuse to acknowledge this and instead pin the blame on the teachers. I’m not saying that the parents are doing a bad job, I’m saying that we need to look at what’s happening at home as equally as we’re looking at what’s happening at school to determine how to help a child who has fallen behind.
To go back a little bit, there are also the consequences of standardized testing for children with disabilities including those who are in special education. Did you know that those kids get handed the same standardized tests that the other kids do? That’s really not fair. You’re essentially telling a child with a disability that because they’re doing poorly on this test that they aren’t smart enough and should be punished by getting a bad grade or have the blame put on them for making the school fall behind in testing scores. Kids with special needs or disabilities can’t take these tests simply because they’re learning at a different rate than the other students in their grade level. That doesn’t mean they’re not smart, it just means they need to be tested differently, which isn’t happening and that’s a problem.
Now let’s take a look at #10 on the pros list: testing is not too stressful for students. HA! I seriously laughed out loud when I read that, no joke. You’re kidding me, right? Standardized testing is one of the most stressful freaking things in a kid’s life. I can’t even tell you how nervous I was to take the SAT when I was in high school. I sat down at the desk in the testing room and realized that my hands were trembling when I went to pick up my pencil. It was terrifying for me because I knew that if I didn’t do well on the SAT then I wouldn’t get into a good college. So, yeah, you know, no big deal. Not like my college education depended on that or anything.
The other problem I have with that statement is that there are so many articles I’ve read about children in elementary schools being so stressed about standardized testing that they started to have nervous breakdowns and anxiety attacks. Okay guys, these are elementary kids. I get that it’s different when you’re in high school and get nervous (even though I still think that’s not okay), but being in elementary school and having these things happen over testing? That’s just freaking insane.
There’s an article in particular that I remember reading about a little girl from Florida coming home after taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and breaking down in tears because at the end of the test she realized she had filled out her bubble sheet wrong and was crushed because she knew that had a substantial impact on her scores for the test. She was in third grade, and yet there she was crying her little eyes out over a freaking test. I simply cannot comprehend what our education system has come to if we’re making our kids so stressed out that they come home and cry over a test.
As much as I’d like to go on and on about the other issues I have with the pros section, I’m going to end it here because this has been rather long already. My point is, though, that students don’t need to be focused on worrying about memorizing facts for a test and should instead be learning for the knowledge of the subject. So, if you’ve read this all the way through then I’d like to thank you for reading my rant, and also for being so concerned about our education system. I just have to keep reminding myself that these are the things I’d like to change one day—their future is in my (and your) hands, and I refuse to sit idly by and do nothing. What will you do?
Photo cred.: blogs.scholastic.com