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Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

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Students taking a test in classroom
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Robert Daly/OJO Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Standardized testing is a highly controversial and well debated topic. However, for several reasons the practice of standardized testing is not going away any time soon. With the impending transition to the Common Core State Standards and the use of the associated assessments, you can bet that the practice of standardized testing will continue to be discussed and debated. Both sides of the standardized testing debate have passionate arguments. Here we examine several pros and cons of standardized testing.

Pros

  1. Standardized testing holds teachers and schools accountable. Probably the greatest benefit of standardized testing is that teachers and schools are responsible for teaching students what they are required to know for these standardized tests. This is primarily because these scores become public record and teachers and schools who don’t perform up to par can come under intense scrutiny. This scrutiny can lead to the loss of job and in some cases a school can be closed or taken over by the state.

  2. Standardized testing allows students located in various schools, districts, and even states to be compared. Without standardized testing this comparison would not be possible. Public school students in the state of Texas are all required to take the same state standardized tests. This means that a student in Amarillo can be compared to a student in Dallas. Being able to accurately compare data is invaluable and is a major reason that the Common Core State Standards have been adopted. These will allow for a more accurate comparison between states.

  3. Standardized testing is typically accompanied by a set of established standards or instructional framework which provide teachers with guidance for what and when something needs to be taught. Without this structure a third grade teacher and a sixth grade teacher could be teaching the same content. Having this guidance also keeps students who move from one school district to another from being behind or ahead their new school.

  4. Standardized tests are objective in nature. Classroom grades given by a teacher are at the very least minimally subjective in nature. Standardized tests are often scored by computers or at the very least scored by people who do not directly know the student. They are also developed by experts and each question undergoes an intense process to remove bias.

  5. Standardized tests provide accurate comparisons between sub-groups. These sub-groups can include data on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs, etc. This provides schools with data to develop programs and services directed at improving scores in these sub-groups.

Cons

  1. Standardized testing evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day and does not take into account external factors. There are many people who simply do not perform well on tests. Many of these students are smart and understand the content, but it doesn’t show on the test. Many students also develop test anxiety which hinders performance. Finally, there are so many external factors that play into test performance. If a student has an argument with their parents the morning of the test, chances are their focus isn’t going to be where it should be.

  2. Standardized testing causes many teachers to only “teach to the tests”. This practice can hinder a student’s overall learning potential. With the stakes getting higher and higher for teachers, this practice will only continue to increase. The sad reality is that it fosters an atmosphere that is boring and lacks creativeness. Teachers have such pressure to get their students ready for these exams that they neglect to teach students skills that go beyond the tests.

  3. Standardized testing only evaluates the individual performance of the student instead of the overall growth of that student over the course of the year. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) only focuses on whether a student is proficient at the time of testing. This does a disservice to both the teacher who worked hard to help their students grow and the student who worked extremely hard over the course of the year and improved tremendously, but failed to score proficient. Many would argue that teacher and student performance should be evaluated on growth over the course of the year instead of one single test performance.

  4. Standardized testing can create a lot of stress on both educators and students. Excellent teachers quit the profession everyday because of how much stress is on them to prepare students to perform on standardized tests. Students especially feel the stress when there is something meaningful tied to them. In Oklahoma, high school students must pass four standardized tests in various areas or they do not earn a diploma, even if their GPA was a 4.00. The stress this can cause on a teenager is not healthy in any way.

  5. Standardized testing can be wrongfully used as fuel for those with political agendas. This is a sad reality far too often across all levels of the political realm. Education is a hot political topic and rightfully so, but the center of this debate is often standardized test scores. The truth is that standardized test scores are often looked at as the end all for student and school success and it shouldn’t be that way. Many would argue that those politicians who try and use standardized test scores as a means to further political agenda are ignorant in their knowledge of what education and learning is truly about.

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