Standardized testing is used to test students on identical fields of information in order to score and interpret how said students are learning and perceiving their required subjects. Although it began with the best intentions, standardized testing can cause more harm than good. These tests are extremely rigorous and discourage schools from teaching beyond that curriculum. The students have trouble learning any problem-solving skills and real-world information due to the exclusive learning of how to take a test. Parents grow anxious over tests scores, how those test scores will affect their children getting into college, and their eventual career and total success. The one size fits all curriculum and lack of creativity brought upon by standardized testing cause students to struggle in their adult lives. These tests need to take a back seat, so teachers can once again take control of their classroom, curriculum, and the impact they have on their student’s futures.
Standardized testing began taking a bigger role in a student’s education with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This policy was written and passed with the thought that this would keep students from graduation without learning the subjects of reading and math. This also allowed schools to “monitor student proficiency, create yearly report cards, track teacher qualifications” (Scogin, S. C., Kruger, C. J., Jekkals, R. E., & Steinfeldt, C. (2017) and keep schools accountable for what they were teaching. This was a policy that held schools accountable for not just the average and above average students, but also the statistically lower scoring students of diverse cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, children from an African American and Hispanic backgrounds were found to fall through the cracks, to graduate without learning simple abilities. So, a strict curriculum was put in place to attempt to prohibit that from occurring. Since the main subjects being testing were language and math, it left out a vast number of other subjects that were not being integrated into the curriculum. Many teachers wonder of the validity of the testing, and “the utility of mandated tests, their appropriateness for some students, and the impact of testing on instructional time and student self-confidence” (Herman, J. L., & Golan, S. (1990). Teachers were also found to not believe that the test scores were all that they were talked up to be, and that the scores in no way reflected what students had essentially learned.
Certain standardized tests were considered “high stakes tests,” and these tests determined which students would pass to the next grade, or next level of advancement. High stakes tests were ones that cause large amount of anxiety in teachers and parents, and soon the students feel it as well. Teachers in these situations are looked at through a microscope so administrators could be assured that the correct lectures are being followed. The issue is that if students were scoring low, then the teacher will feel punishment and the school could lose funding, “and as students, family, and school leaders scramble to comply with these requirements, sometimes they lose sight of the big picture: there’s lots of evidence that these tests are doing harm, and very little in their favor” (Kamenetz, A. (2015). Students have been found increasingly to not like school since substantial portions were taken out for test preparation, and the testing itself. These students were looking forward to is sitting in silence for up to three unerupted hours, and this kind of stress played directly on their overall score. Cheating had become more of an epidemic because of the high-pressure atmosphere these tests create, and students panic at the knowledge that tests write their entire future.
Alarmingly, this increased weight of testing was seen more so in elementary school children. These were children who were still going through their cognitive development, mastering hand eye coordination, and learning new social skills. There were elementary school classrooms with computer-based testing, and with public school funding much of the equipment is ill fitting and was poorly maintained. These extra obstacles allowed children to get easily frustrated and do poorly. When these children look at other peers who are doing well, they only feel increasingly self-aware and fall into a spiral. These schools have reports of “students throwing up, staying home with stomachaches, locking themselves in the bathroom, crying, having nightmares, and otherwise acting out on test days” (Kamenetz, A. (2015). Children need a safe space to learn and grow, and it was unethical to allow these students continue learning under harsh conditions.
Teachers were being told to “teach to the test” to achieve the highest grades on standardized tests, and this caused teachers to have added accountability, more time spent on test preparation, and a lost sense of pride. Improving test scores was expected by the school administrators as well as the parents and the community. This only added to the accountability pressure put on teachers for being responsible not only to improve test scores, but also using the opportunity to promote themselves and increase the school’s funding. This pressure was found to differ in teachers depending on tenure. The veteran teachers were more likely to place blame on the students with their lack of knowledge on a subject, and less blame on how the subject was being taught. Students can tell when a teacher is passionate and involved with their subject. There was life in those classrooms, a special brightness that inspired. These classrooms with more inexperienced teachers “felt greater anxiety and accountability pressure than experienced teachers. [Researchers] also found that teachers reacted negatively to pressure created by public displays of classroom scores” (Herman, J. L., & Golan, S. (1990). This burden of increased accountability caused some teachers greater anxiety in their overall careers, as well as a loss of power in their own classroom and curriculum planning. The strict guideline of testing procedures proved to be comforting to some teachers, but to others they found that they were working more independently, and they were “discouraged… from using joint or team teaching approaches and from changing their methods to facilitate serious student learning” (Herman, J. L., & Golan, S. (1990). Added time for test preparation was cutting into standard curriculum and was being documented at taking out up to four weeks leading up to a test. Many teachers were just instructing what they felt would be on the test and rushed to get in as much information as possible. They began building their lesson planning around test preparation, making sure that “their curricula include all or most of the test content, and plan to assure that they cover test objectives” to secure higher test scores and increased satisfaction in administrators and parents. Teachers were losing their sense of pride in their work as none of it was their own. Curriculum is given and meant to be instructed from, and many teachers were losing the initial drive that lead them to the classroom. Teachers were projecting low images of themselves, “feelings of guilt, anger, and low professional esteem” but also felt as if they had lost all professional power and were being controlled by a testing puppet master. Test preparation does not require much additional thought or energy, and teachers were finding that they were spending “from one to four weeks of class time… having students complete worksheets that review expected test content, having students practice item formats expected on the test, and instructing students in test-taking strategies” (Herman, J. L., & Golan, S. (1990). Teachers in low testing schools are having to repeat this overdone information to their students, only causing increased distrust in the school system. Follow up meetings are performed within the school board to better assess how time management is being spent, and discussions are had as to other ways to improve testing and general scoring. It is to be noted that these meetings are for the discussion as to how to improve testing scores, not to improve the students grades and academic achievement.
With such a limited subject pool, teachers had begun to teach how to take a test instead of how to learn. A study at Harvard and Brown Universities in December of 2013 found that these tests do not necessarily teach students how to think. This was a study of approximately 1,400 students in the Boston Public School system, and they found that “the researchers administered tests of the students’ fluid intelligence, or their ability to apply reasoning in novel situations, comprising skills like working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and the ability to solve abstract problems. By contrast, standardized tests mostly test crystallized intelligence, or the application of memorized routines to familiar problems” (Scogin, S. C., Kruger, C. J., Jekkals, R. E., & Steinfeldt, C. (2017). Organizations and businesses looking to hire recent graduates are feeling the brunt of this limited curriculum as well, as many applicants have limited problem solving and social skills needed to be successful in a team work environment. When these organizations were asked what they were looking for in new applicants, “over 400 U.S. employers ranked the following skills as most important: teamwork/collaboration, oral communications, professionalism/work ethic, and critical thinking/problem solving” (Scogin, S. C., Kruger, C. J., Jekkals, R. E., & Steinfeldt, C. (2017). Mastering specific skill sets are no longer a requirement in the current workforce, but instead the skills learned through academics. Recent graduates were expected to move and learn quickly, to communicate professionally and effectively. Standardized testing took out the critical thinking that is achieved through alternative learning methods such as group think projects and outdoor activities.
Standardized testing was deep rooted in the school system in order to guarantee students would graduate having learned basic math and language lessons. What it created was limited teaching, guesswork, increased anxiety and a lost sense of self.
Herman, J. L., & Golan, S. (1990). Effects of Standardized Testing on Teachers and Learning–Another Look.
Kamenetz, A. (2015). The test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing—but you don’t have to be. New York, NY, US: Public Affairs Books.
Scogin, S. C., Kruger, C. J., Jekkals, R. E., & Steinfeldt, C. (2017). Learning by Experience in a Standardized Testing Culture: Investigation of a Middle School Experiential Learning Program.