Standardized testing is a measuring tool that is used in all public school systems across the US. It is given upon exit of different grade levels and is used to measure knowledge in a host of core subjects like math, reading, science and social science.
The history of standardized testing is a long one in the US. Talk about finding a way to measure learning that did not involve long essays (which were the primary testing tool at the turn of the 19th century) started somewhere in the late 1800′s with Horace Mann calling for an easier way to set some standards.
All the talk finally evolved into the first SAT’s in the 1920′s! Almost 100 years ago standardized multiple choice testing instruments were produced. It was the beginning of what some educators deemed the end of critical thinking.
Of course plenty of critics demonize the multiple choice standardized testing instruments as inept instruments that really do not measure knowledge but instead measure memory while proponents of these testing instruments claim that they are fair balanced measures not only of what a child is learning but whether the teaching is effective.
There are pros and cons to standardized testing that can easily sway you one way or the other.
1. Many proponents of these testing instruments offer up that these are helping tools. That they measure what a child’s level of knowledge is on a given subject and can alert parents and school officials if they are not making adequate progress in a given subject.
2. Since most testing instruments that are used in the classroom are created by a teacher or graded by the teacher those testing instruments can be a bit subjective. Standardized testing is created by a team of education professionals and is made with the bell curve in mind.
3. Standardized test instruments are not graded in a pass of fail model they are graded on a range model. A numerical grade is given but the overall is really a comparison to other students at the same grade level. It is a system that is faulty at best but it is the only system that is in place that offers a way to gauge overall learning.
4. Measuring teacher effectiveness is left up to the reveal of the standardized test scores in many school systems. The teachers are held accountable for low scores in many school systems across the US, teachers bonuses are riding on those scores. The pro is that teachers should be held accountable for their teaching ability and standardized testing gives us a peak at whether the teacher is effectively teaching or not but is it a true measure or teacher ability? Should as much weight be pleased on the test scores?
1. The cons when it comes to standardized testing is a fairly long list that ranges from the test being non relevant to a big majority or students to encouraging fraudulent submissions by teachers because of the very pro listed above about teacher accountability. Critics of standardized testing point out that what is relevant to a child that lives in the suburbs of Minnesota is not relevant to a child that lives in the inner city of NYC and that the way the questions are asked do not offer a fair measure to either child. If a child in Minnesota is asked about snow and how it is formed on one of the science questions it is a very relevant question in their life, if you ask a kid in Florida the same question it may not be as relevant and will not be stored in their long term memory even if they did learn it. You can reverse this scenario and see how it can work in the other direction as well. Ask a kid in NYC about train operation and they likely will understand what you are talking about because they live it everyday, ask the same question of the kid in the suburbs of Minnesota and while they may have learned about general train engineering it is not relevant to them and they very likely have not stored it away in long term memory. There is no test that can address all the factors that effect learning and accurately measure what has been learned.
2. The cons of standardized testing is that there is no way you can adequately compare the type of knowledge that each child has about a subject especially when they live in different environments and are more likely to retain information that is important to them. This is true of children of different socioeconomic classes and of different cultural backgrounds as well as different geographical locations.
3. Another con is that many critics point out the obvious fact that teachers are put under undue pressure to “teach to the test”. They are made aware of the curriculum that will be tested and they have to teach the children to pass the test NOT to learn. It can become a very mechanized atmosphere in the classroom when teachers are put under so much pressure to teach so that the children will test well.
4. Teachers can sometimes be dishonest when it comes to the test because of the pressure that has been put on them. In some states those test scores will determine if the teacher has a job next year. Many teachers have lost their jobs because of low test scores on standardized testing. Unfortunately the majority of the teachers that were effected by low test score results worked with special populations that could not perform up to par because of developmental handicaps.
5. Many critics feel that standardized testing does a poor job of testing actual intelligence and learning because of the format of the testing. The multiple choice really only tests if a child can accurately out guess other children in the same grade level.
6. The testing instruments are long and not error free. One of the biggest cons of these types of tests is the expectation that a child can sit and test for 2-3 hours without fatigue and without getting to the point where they want to finish at all costs even if it means just guessing their way through. Many opponents of the standardized testing instruments are not really against standardized testing they are against the multiple choice method of the testing.
7. Multiple choice testing does not really give a child an opportunity to fully express their thoughts on a subject matter. While math is a better option for multiple choice than say reading it is still not the best option because it does not actually explore what is known about the subject only what is known about one problem in the subject.
8. While there are plenty of cons and a few pros most educators agree that it is the only tool that is widely available presently that can measure learning and the fault actually lies not in the testing itself but in the weight that legislators put on the testing that is at fault. Most educators agree that there needs to be a measurement tool but that the results should not be the deciding factor in learning or teaching for that matter.