Standardized Testing

10 October 2016

So why do we still participate in something that has been given so much negative attention? On the one hand, perhaps, standardized testing provides a few key ingredients to successful education, and doesn’t deserve such negativity. For example, standardizing assessment eliminates testing bias, allowing every student the same opportunity to answer the same question. Students from Georgia learn and repeat the same historical “facts” as students from Utah. Students from poorer districts are judged by the exact same standards as those with greater socio-economic opportunities.

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In turn, this generates accountability both on the part of the teacher as well as the student, since academic success is measured by one carefully constructed variable. Teachers know exactly what they should teach, students know exactly what they should study, and school districts know exactly where their students should stand, and can compare that standing to the rest of America. If they find that their students are testing lower than students in Minnesota, or California, or Arizona, they can’t blame anyone but themselves—everyone follows the same standard.

Everyone has access to the same materials. And yet, in our quest for standardizing a curriculum to limit testing bias and streamline the testing process, are we also limiting a student’s potential? I remember a high school teacher pulling me aside after I went “beyond the instructions” on a practice test in class. “You’re a great writer,” he said, but make sure you follow the directions no matter what. ” And what if I thought I could answer the question without using the requisite road-map thesis statement?

What if I wanted to subtly unveil my argument, unwrap it like an onion, rather than write my 1000th five-paragraph essay? “Just follow the directions,” I was told. “You’ll have plenty of time for creativity later. ” The problem with brushing aside creativity for “following the directions” is that not every student tests well, not every student learns through the same teaching or studying methods, and not every student’s academic prowess can be judged by a streamlined platform. Some students go to college with artistic goals in mind; some need to be creative.

And perhaps worst of all is that standardized testing inherently promotes the very bias it tries to eliminate: by making STEM classes (science, technology, engineering, math) the core for a standard curriculum, educators and legislators diminish the importance of liberal arts. Forcing teachers to teach to a standardized test, forcing students to take creative classes as electives (at best), creates a bias against the “value” of a liberal arts education. Still, standardizing tests for every student in America is efficient and cost-effective.

It ensures that every student is at least learning something of value, and who’s to say that students can’t learn other ways of thinking? Maybe they’re artistically minded only because they haven’t really tried anything else? And in the end, what’s driving America the most? Science or English? Technology or art? In other words, are standardized tests a necessary evil? Should we leave a school behind because it can’t catch up? Should we limit a school’s academic pace? Either way you look at it, what to do with our educational system is a complex issue that isn’t easily resolved.

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