16 Biggest Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

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In the modern educational environment, standardized testing is used to evaluate students and their teachers with how well they are performing. Their use is often touted because it allows students and teachers to be compared with one another, showing how well someone is performing or what educational gaps may need to be addressed. In the US, standardized testing today often doesn’t account for any special needs that a student may have, so the results for each student may not be entirely accurate.

The pros and cons of standardized testing show us that evaluating how students and teachers perform is an important part of the educational process. We can improve that be looking at additional key points like these.

What Are the Pros of Standardized Testing?

1. They are a familiar component of the US educational system.
Education in the United States has included standardized testing in some way since the mid-1800s. Standardized tests, such as the ACT or GRT, are also useful in determining placement in advanced educational programs. Since 2002, their use has been more common in all 50 states within the US. This has only increased since the conversion to Common Core.

2. It is a process which holds students and teachers accountable.
The scores on a standardized test become part of the public record. If a student is not performing as they should, then these gaps can be identified immediately and adjustments to their learning process made. If a teacher is underperforming, then this can be identified and adjustment quickly as well. Schools are also judged through this process, which has led to some being closed or brought under new management because of a lack of quality.

3. Parents receive more information about their student.
The information that is provided by a standardized test allows parents to see how their children are performing against national standards through a percentile rating. If a student receives a 90% rating in mathematics, for example, then parents know that their student is performing better in that subject than 90% of their peers throughout the country. Parents can also see how the educational opportunities in their region compare to national statistics.

4. It creates an accepted set of standards that are established throughout the entire educational community.
If a student moves to a different school district, their knowledge and learning processes aren’t going to dramatically change because of standardized testing. Every student is evaluated in the same way with these tests, which means there is a guarantee of a specific educational framework in every school. This means teachers at every grade level are teaching curricula that is similar, no matter where they happen to be.

5. They reduce the subjectivisms of grading systems.
Many students are graded within a classroom environment on a curve. This means the student’s work is compared to the work of other students and then a grade is assigned based on that performance. There are also subjectivisms in the grading systems for certain reading and writing activities that are based solely on teacher opinion. Because standardized tests are graded by computers, they are much more impartial and accurate with the grades a student has truly earned.

6. It can provide information that schools need to form sub-group learning opportunities.
Standardized testing provides a set of data that can be mined by schools to improve their structure, teaching methods, and activities. Sub-groups can be easily identified on standardized tests that allow schools to be able to develop services and programs that can help to improve the educational opportunities for those students. In doing so, the goal is to raise the testing scores that the teachers and students are able to achieve.

7. It allows overseers to determine the effectiveness of an educational system.
Educational systems are not meant to be static structures. As technologies and knowledge changes and grows, our educational systems must be able to adapt. Thirty years ago, computers were a rarity in the classroom environment. A school might have a computer lab in 1985 with a handful of stations and that was it. Through standardized testing, we can identify the areas of an educational system that need to evolve so we can put modern learning opportunities into the hands of our students. Like bringing in low-cost Chromebooks into the classroom on a regular basis.

8. It encourages kids to work together.
Although studying opportunities do tend to decline with standardized testing, kids often approach a standardized test as a local competition. They work hard to do better than their friends did. The scores that they are able to achieve become a sense of pride. This is especially true for gifted and talented students who can regularly score in the top percentile ratings for their grade level.

What Are the Cons of Standardized Testing?

1. Standardized testing only provides a one-day evaluation for a student.
If a student had a difficult morning and it affects their performance on the day they take a standardized test, then their scores may not accurately reflect their true knowledge or potential. Many people just don’t perform well on a test because of the pressure that a test provides. Test anxiety can also affect a student’s performance. This means a standardized test isn’t always an accurate reflection of the intelligence a student has.

2. They can change how teachers actually teach in the classroom.
Because teacher evaluations are based on the results of standardized tests, it has caused many teachers to change their classroom approach. Instead of teaching specific skills that are subject-related, they teach students how to take the test well instead. This practice hinders the potential that a child has to learn, removes creativity from the classroom, and causes children to dread going to school more than they already do.

3. They have the potential to create teaching gaps.
Because teachers are almost forced to become hyper-focused on test results, students begin to be identified based on how well they perform. Students that are highly intelligent and take the standardized tests well will often receive little attention from their teacher because the teacher’s focus has shifted to the poor test takers. This further limits the learning potential of students, especially the gifted and talented students who would benefit from skill-based learning.

4. It causes teachers to abandon their profession for good.
Great teachers are opting to leave their classrooms in favor of other employment opportunities because of the pressures that standardized tests create. Students also feel this stress because they realize that their performance is going to affect the life of their teacher in some way. This intense pressure does not encourage learning. If anything, it encourages a lack of learning by knowing just enough to get by.

5. Standardized tests can struggle to evaluate a student’s total growth.
Standardized testing will only determine how proficient a student is at the time the test has been taken. A student who comes into fourth grade at a first-grade reading level, but improves to a third-grade reading level by the end of the year, will still be measured as being deficient on their standardized test. Instead of evaluating the hard work that a student puts in for improvement, the test basically calls the student a failure.

6. Standardized testing creates questions and answers that have their own subjectivity.
It’s true that computer grading can eliminate the subjectivity of the grade. What computers cannot do is eliminate the subjectivity of the people who create the test in the first place. This may create an unintended bias within the grading results, even without grading subjectivity, because the questions could be geared toward a certain ethnic or socioeconomic class to their benefit.

7. Funding is often dependent on student scoring.
Even within individual school districts, the amount of funding a specific school receives is often dependent on the test scores that are achieved. This means there is a lot of unnecessary competition between classrooms and schools about test results just so that the school can receive the funding that they want or need. This competition often limits the amount of time students have for exercise and play, which can affect their social development.

8. They can destroy a student’s self-esteem.
School is often approached as a job. A necessity. With a poor standardized test score, students can think less of themselves and their abilities. A low score might even result in summer tutoring, which ruins the idea of a summer vacation from school. This can be especially problematic for students who are high knowledge individuals, but poor test takers.

The pros and cons of standardized testing show that the amount of information that these tests can generate is invaluable. Teachers can see what they need to teach and when they are able to teach it. If we can focus less on taking the test and more on teaching every student in an individualized way as much as possible, we will be able to see the true benefits of this type of test.