The standardized testing

There is an assumption in our minds these days that passing an exam to enter high school will produce improved learning outcomes. If the assumptions were true, students in states with high-stakes tests should perform better than other students on neutral measures of academic performance. Standardized test and the scores that they bring up have become the defining concept of what passes for measuring school reform and progress in this day and age. Whether I consider myself to be intelligent, dense, lethargic, or diligent, the only measure I have is how fast and how accurately I can darken the circles on multiple-choice test. No test is good enough to serve as the primarily basis for important educational decisions. My older brother himself became a victim of standardized testing during his high school days as it took him 2 years to get the admission in one the top colleges due to the fact that the outcomes of his test weren't good enough for him to get the admission solely because he was waitlisted for three of the four colleges he applied to. Requiring students to take standardized tests to receive a high school diploma will not improve learning.

The reason that standards based education does not improve learning because until there is truly equal opportunity to learn for all students, such as equal access to; qualified teachers, facilities, and other learning inputs, and holding students accountable for the results of standardized testing is pointless. The intent should be that all students do well in education. Teachers start "teaching to the test", they start focusing their lessons towards helping students pass the test because they feel the pressure of being punished if the students do not do well. Too much time is taken up teaching kids on how to take the test then actually teaching other material that will be more helpful to students. Students, in fear of not graduating from high school start studying only to pass the test rather than to improve themselves. College enrollment figures are usually don't make headlines but in 1998, the numbers for the University of California were shocking.

According to University of California, African American enrollment dropped by more than 60% from 1997 levels, and Latino enrollment dropped by nearly 50%. UCLA experienced dramatic decreases as well. (Los Angeles Times)

Since California's Proposition 209 in 1996 was approved, this imposed a ban on considering any race or ethnicity when admitting a student in a college or university.

In 1997 the university settled on an apparently simple solution: eliminate the SAT as a criterion for admissions. "We have evidence that the SAT loses us 2,000 Latino students this year alone," said Eugene Garcia, dean of the School of Education at Berkeley in a 1997 interview. (Los Angeles Times)

For decades, people have complained, including me, that many standardized tests are unfair because the questions require a set of knowledge and skills more likely to be possessed by children from a privileged background. Test results don't necessarily indicate achievement,but rather, they tell more about the size of the students house and the income of his/her (McNeil). This means, it provides a powerful advantage to students whose parents are affluent and well-educated. It's more than a little ironic to rely on biased tests to "close the gap" between rich and poor. On top of that, when students start to prepare themselves for the tests, different companies try to sell test-prep materials and services which are usually very expensive. Naturally, the rich families and schools are more able to take advantage of these services as compared to poor school or students from poor backgrounds. Moreover, when these poor schools manage to get their hands on these materials and services, it's often at the expense of books and other educational resources. So can we say that these tests are biased against the poor? Well, the answer is yes. The poor certainly do not score as highly on average as wealthy students. Over the last forty years SAT scores have been positively correlated with family income. Here is the relationship as of 1994: (Owen)

So the SAT appears biased against the poor in the sense that the poor tend to score lower and therefore will be less likely to be admitted to the college of their choice. It can go even worse. Many of the coaching centers or schools have claimed that they can raise the score by 300, and the fact that their coaching works, it has been confirmed by different individual studies. (FTC) So, provided that the coaching fees costs around $500 to $1000, if coaching works then this puts the poor at an even greater disadvantage.

Differences between racial and ethnic groups in their performance on standardized tests including the SAT and its competition, the ACT have been analyzed extensively by many researchers and have been mentioned in the press too. Researchers have given number of reasons for these score differences, ranging from socioeconomic, cultural, and genetic factors to test bias.

According Richard Hermstein and Charles Murrary's book The Bell Curve, which was published in 1994, have favored standardized testing by telling that there are considerations of genetic explanations for group differences in test scores. (Richard J.)

Standardized tests have also created stress in the daily lives of the students. I myself have always experienced stress and to date feel nervous whenever I take any test, whether it's for a university or for a course. I have seen many students who are considered A-graders getting choked when it comes to standardized tests. I remember, when I went for the SAT, I got cramps in my stomach and ended up getting sick and eventually missing the exam. I personally think, what makes these tests so stressful is the way they are administered. They are 3 to 5 hours long, instructions are really complicated and the regulations are not flexible at all. It would be really difficult for a student like me as it differs a lot with the daily class or campus life. The worst part of it is that the stress doesn't goes away even after the test but remains till the student gets the admission to the college. I also believe that the pressure doesn't only come to the students but also their parents, as they are the ones who not only support their children emotionally but also financially (Sacks). Because of the stress students are having, it has lead to cheating in school as well.

Cheating has been there for a long time, but what's new is that cheating has been increased a lot during the years.

In 2002,CNNcited a RutgersManagementEducationCenter study that found that out of 4500 students surveyed, "75 percent of them engage in serious cheating."(CNN)

And most shocking is that the students don't see anything wrong with cheating.

Some 50 percent of those responding to the survey said "they don't think copying questions and answers from a test is even cheating." (CNN)

Many students cheat to relieve some of the academic pressures of school. There is so much competition amongst the students to get into the best colleges, and because of this many students take cheating as a quick way achieve their goals in big colleges. In fact, three top schools were recently in the news for cheating scandals. All three scandals involved students actually stealing exams from teachers, some students were so desperate and went so far as to break into the school to steal a test out of a teacher's file cabinet. (ABC)

According to a study conducted by S. Nonis and C. Swift (2001), "students who engage in dishonest acts incollegeclassesare more likely to engage in dishonest acts in the workplace."

Obviously considering long-term consequences, cheating is a very important issue that has to be taken care of. In order to prevent it from happening, schools and college must stop putting pressure on students by eliminating their policy on standardized testing.

I am also aware of the fact that many readers won't support the arguments that I have presented. The most important factor that my critics would come out with is that standardized tests are creative which improves student's problem solving skills. My answer to that would be, that, as we all know standardized tests are based on multiple choice questions, therefore, a teacher can't tell where the student went wrong when he/she failed to do a math problem because no working is shown. In addition to that, standardized test does not give the student any chance to improve his/her critical thinking or problem skills because true understanding of whether a student has actually mastered a concept is limited (Kohn). Because of these tests, students are bound to memorize it, rather than understanding the basic concept as a whole.

The other criticism that I can face is standardized tests prepare students for college. I accept that it does help the students in some way for college, but, the tests encourage teachers to teach test taking strategies to students which can give a negative effect on the quality of education the teacher can provide (Sacks). This can also force the students to study limited range of topics, rather than exploring wide variety of issues. I personally believe that standardized tests stops the teachers from teaching the syllabus that they can teach which is very important for the future of the student and his/her life changing tests. If standardized tests are used while not controlling the curriculum, this can result in a school putting itself to risk for producing lower test scores.

According to the federalNo Child Left Behindlaw in the United States, low test scores mean schools and districts can be labeled "in need of improvement" and punished.

Therefore, I feel that the amount of work it takes to establish a learning environment that creates these authentic opportunities is not proportional to the limited amount time given to teachers to develop this environment.

Another criticism that I can face is that if we don't use standardized test, then how we will know how students are doing? Standardized tests are objective which means they are multiple choice questions, which also means that they are no emotions or logic attached to it. There are better methods of evaluating student's progress. Standardized tests are just one type of assessment, although they often get the most publicity. It's also important to recognize that teachers assess students regularly as part of their on-going teaching. The challenge is to match assessment that is integrated into classroom instruction, and is focused primarily on helping individual children (Haney and Madaus). One of the first steps toward rethinking assessments is to ask, "What is the purpose of these tests?" or, "Is this purpose has some meaning to it?", and "How it can affect the students?" Answering these questions means speaking what is important for students to learn, how we help them learn, and how we know what they have learned. Too often, the rationale for standardized testing appears overly punishable or disciplinary: "We will make the students perform better or otherwise." Such an approach forgets that assessment should serve one primary purpose: to improve student learning. The goal is not to fail kids, not to point fingers at teachers, but to provide healthy information to help the student learn better.

Another criticism that will come under my way is 'teaching to the test' does increase student's knowledge. This depends on whether the test is good. For multiple-choice tests, "teaching to the test" means focusing on the content that will be on the test, sometimes even drilling on test items, and using the format of the test as a basis for teaching. Since this kind of teaching to the test leads primarily to improved test-taking skills, increases in test scores do not necessarily mean improvement in real academic performance. Teaching to the test also narrows the curriculum, forcing teachers and students to concentrate on memorization of different facts, instead of developing fundamental and higher order abilities (Haney and Madaus). For example, multiple-choice writing tests are really copy-pasting tests, which do not measure the ability to organize or communicate ideas. Practicing on tests or test-like exercises is not how to learn but to memorize it for short period of time.

The solution for the education problem in America has to do with the need to eliminate these tests, not with the need to improve students' performance on them. It is important to understand that the schools or their educators cannot be changed in any important sense until fixed curricula are eliminated. But fixed curricula will not be eliminated until we assess the students in different way.

When students take courses in subjects or courses like photography, weight loss, yoga, home improvement, there is no test at the end. There isn't a need for a test because the students are their own masters. I would rather say it's a talent that has to be polished by giving important and healthy information. In these kinds of situations they cannot be judged. There is no lack of motivation when the students want to learn a new skill.

We shouldn't be distracted by trying to win by getting higher scores than others without even focusing our health. Instead, we should measure the success of our educational system by analyzing that whether or not we are producing graduates who have posses the ability and desire to learn. The best sign of a successful education system would be that students want to go to school, that they remain excited about learning once they get there, and that in the end, they are all ready to answer and respond thoughtfully to the problems they will face when they go in the practical world.

Finally, I would say that studying for learning has far more benefits than studying just for the sake of a test. Teachers who use direct learning techniques do not need to motivate students since students leave the class learning the most important ideas and having clearly improved their skills. Because of this, students also feel respected, engage in problem solving skills, and applying themselves to learning. I believe that children should be evaluated in a number of ways, rather than by using only one system to assess the needs and learning of students. Teachers play an important role, because they interact with children on a daily basis in the classroom, and can speak out about problems that they see amongst the students, as well as providing educational improvement and support. What we need to do is give confidence not only to our teachers but also are schools. The schools should be rewarded for offering diverse opportunities for students by creating a system that won't be a slave of these standardized tests. Performance should be measured for on the talent or skill rather than on the results. In addition to that, the schools can also involve in different evaluations like having interviews with teachers and students which will help in solving many issues the teachers or students are facing, sitting in on active classes and watch how the students and teachers are communicating with each other, and considering other evaluation methods tosubstitute standardized testing.

Works Cited

  • Weiss, Kenneth R. "Fewer Blacks and Latinos enroll at UC." Los Angeles Times 21 May 1998: A3-A24.
  • Colvin, Richard L. "Q & A: Should UC Do Away with the SAT?" Los Angeles Times 1 Oct. 1997: B2.
  • Herrnstein, Richard J. Bell curve intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
  • "Cheating Scandals Rock Three Top-Tier High Schools - ABC News." - Breaking news, politics, online news, world news, feature stories, celebrity interviews and more - ABC News. Web. 14 Feb. 2010. <>.
  • " - Survey: Many students say cheating's OK - April 5, 2002." - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Web. 14 Feb. 2010. <>.
  • Nonis, S., & Swift, C. O. 2001. The Journal of Education for Business 76(6): 69-77.
  • Sacks, Peter. Standardized Minds The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It. Grand Rapids: Perseus, 2001. Print.
  • Kohn, Alfie. The Case Against Standardized Testing Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools. Chicago: Heinemann, 2000. Print.
  • McNeil, Linda. Contradictions of School Reform Educational Costs of Standardized Testing (Critical Social Thought). New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2000. Print.
  • Haney, Walter, and George Madaus. "Searching for Alternatives to Standardized Tests: Whys, Whats, and Whithers." The Phi Delta Kappan 70.9 (1989): 683-87. JSTOR. Phi Delta Kappa International, May 1989. Web. 4 Feb. 2010. <>.
  • "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The No Child Left behind Act of 2001)."U.S. Department of Education. Web. 15 Feb. 2010. <>.
  • Baird, Leonard L. "Do grades and tests predict Adult accomplishment?" 23 (1985).
  • Owen, David.None of the Above. Rowman & Littlefield,, 1999. Print.
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