Standardized testing has been around for several generations. In the United States, standardized tests have been used to evaluate student performance since the middle of the 19th century. Virtually every person who has attended a public or private school has taken at least one standardized test.
The advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing are quite unique. On one hand, these tests provide a way to compare student knowledge to find learning gaps. On the other hand, not every student performs well on a test, despite having a comprehensive knowledge and understanding about the subject matter involved. Here are some of the key points to consider.
What Are the Advantages of Standardized Testing?
1. It has a positive impact on student achievement.
According to a review of testing research that has been conducted over the past century, over 90% of students have found that standardized tests have a positive effect on their achievement. Students feel better about their ability to comprehend and know subject materials that are presented on a standardized test. Even if a perfect score isn’t achieved, knowing where a student stands helps them be able to address learning deficits.
2. It is a reliable and objective measurement of achievement.
Standardized tests allow for a reliable measurement of student success that isn’t influenced by local factors. Local school districts and teachers may have a vested interest in the outcomes of testing and the desire to produce a favorable result can create inaccurate test results. Because standardized tests are graded by computers, they are not as subject to human bias or subjectivity, which makes them a more accurate reflection of student success.
3. Standardized tests allow for equal and equivalent content for all students.
This means a complete evaluation of students from an equal perspective can be obtained. Using alternate tests or exempting children from taking a standardized test creates unequal systems, which then creates one group of students who is accountable to their results and another group of students that is unaccountable. It is a system that looks at every child through equal eyes.
4. A standardized test teaches students prioritization.
Standardized testing covers core subject materials that students need for success in other subject areas. Without reading, for example, it would be difficult to learn how to write properly. Without mathematics, it would be difficult to pursue scientific concepts. The goal of a standardized test is to cover core subject materials that will help students excel in other related subjects, giving them the chance to master core curriculum items so they can move on to correlating subjects with greater ease.
5. It allows school districts to discover their good teachers.
Good teachers understand that test preparation drills and specific core instructions to “teach to a test” are not the best way to encourage learning. Repetition does not produce test score gains, but teaching a curriculum that allows students to explore a subject according to their interests, with teacher guidance, will do so. Test-taking skills and memorization do not promote understanding and districts which take these actions continually show low overall standardized testing scores.
What Are the Disadvantages of Standardized Testing?
1. It has not had a positive impact on student education.
Since 2002, when the United States added more emphasis to standardized testing, it has dropped in global education rankings. From 2002-2009, the US went from being ranked 18th in the world in mathematic to being ranked 31st in the world. The rankings in science also dropped in a similar way, while reading comprehension remained largely unchanged. According to the National Research Council, even incentive programs tied to standardized testing results are not working to improve student comprehension, understanding, and knowledge.
2. Standardized testing can be predictable.
Students who are aware of patterns can determine what the answers to a standardized test could be by only knowing a handful of answers with certainty. This predictability reflects the natural human bias that occurs in every action or reaction we have in any endeavor. It also means test scores can be high without reflecting student understanding. Brookings found that up to 80% of test score improvements in test scores can have nothing to do with long-term learning changes.
3. They assume that all students start from the same point of understanding.
Standardized tests may allow for a direct comparison of data, but they do not account for differences in the students who are taking the tests. In the US, standardized tests could be considered discriminatory in some regions because they assume that the student is a first-language English speaker. Students who have special needs, learning disabilities, or have other challenges which are addressed by an Individualized Education Plan may also be at a disadvantage when taking a standardized test compared to those who do not have those concerns.
4. Standardized tests only look at raw comprehension data.
Students learn in a variety of ways. People have many different strengths that may not be reflected in the context of a standardized test. Traits like creativity, enthusiasm, empathy, curiosity, or resourcefulness cannot be tracked by these tests, even though they are highly desirable traits in modern careers. A standardized test could determine the knowledge a student has about musical theory, but it cannot judge the quality of a composition that a student might create.
5. Teacher evaluations have been tied to standardized test results.
Many teachers are being evaluated on the work that their students do on a standardized test. Based on the classroom grades achieved, a teacher might receive a raise or be fired from their job. This creates a host of learning problems. For starters, only the students who are performing poorly on testing simulations receive a majority of the attention from the teacher, leaving good students to fend for themselves. Teachers then begin to “teach to the test” instead of teaching subject materials to obtain needed results. This creates a reduction of higher-order thinking, reduces complex assignments, and prevents cognitive understanding.
6. Standardized tests narrow the curriculum.
According to the Center on Education Policy, from 2001-2007, school districts in the United States reduced the amount of time spent on social studies, creative subjects, and science by over 40%. This results in the average student losing more than 2 hours of instruction time in these areas so that they can focus on subjects that are on standardized tests, such as reading and math.
7. More time is spent on test preparation instead of actual learning.
Many school districts, especially those with lower test scores, spend more classroom time on test preparation than learning the curriculum. In 2010, New York City took the extraordinary measure of including 2.5-hour test preparation sessions on scheduled school vacation days.
The advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing show that it can be a useful tool for student evaluation, but only when it is used correctly. Like any system, it can be abused by those who are looking for shortcuts. That is why each key point must be carefully considered before implementing or making changes to a plan of standardized testing.