The Case Against Standardized Tests: Misplaced Goals

December 12, 2007
By Carla Luppino, Hilliard, OH

Evaluating individual students through standardized tests is a poor means with detrimental consequences and should be replaced with performance-based assessments. Education serves a specific purpose. How can it fulfill it under the circumstances that now exist? You spend the better part of your early life in a classroom, submitting to a sequence of exams and preparation for further exams to finally graduate to bigger things, constantly struggling and striving for the highest marks. Through a strict series of standardized tests, you form the impression that there is a single, valid answer for all of the quandaries of the modern world. You are taught not to think logically or creatively but to memorize and recite. As a student, you steadily lose interest in the different disciplines you are being taught: the sciences, the languages and arts. Education functions to set a foundation for your future. Through the system of standardized testing, it fails.

Initially, standardized tests are put in place to a measure a student’s progress and performance. These tests examine what the individual has learned and what the teacher has taught. Regrettably, they create a weak representation of both. An interesting truth about standardized tests holds that a typical student can take the same test twice and, each time, receive different scores. You must question the accuracy of such a test. Interestingly, if you search the shelves of a library, you will find a selection of books on preparation for different standardized tests: college entrance exams, required graduation tests, and any number of others. The focal point of each of these guides is how to prepare yourself. The best way to prepare for a test should reasonably be to study the included material. This idea no longer applies. Success on standardized tests involves ways to control stress and utilize time or helpful tactics and memorization devices. Performance depends less on an existing knowledge than it does on an ability to beat the system. The weight of anxiety, distraction, and emotional distress play into a student’s ability to perform well as he or she sits to complete the test. Under this enormous pressure, the odds are against them. In spite of promising intellect and determination, the most diligent learner can fail. How well, then, can a standardized test actually measure what a student is made of? And more importantly, can a solution can be formed?

A popular alternative to standardized testing is performance-based assessment. It is naturally more open-ended, involving essays, projects and presentations, and real-world simulations. It exposes a student’s creative and intellectual potential. An important difference between these controversial types of assessments is the means that each uses to evaluate its subject. A standardized test is largely based on multiple-choice questions, each with only one correct answer. Therefore, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, standardized tests "do not measure the ability to write, to use math, to make meaning from text when reading, to understand scientific methods or reasoning, or to grasp social science concepts. Nor do these tests adequately measure thinking skills or assess what people can do on real-world tasks". Not considering, schools across the United States continue to require standardized tests as part of the set curriculum. A more suitable solution remains comfortably within reach.

In Ohio, there is a law in place that high school students must pass a set of tests in order to graduate. Students are tested in reading, writing, science, social studies, and mathematics, beginning in their sophomore year. This statewide standardized test, the Ohio Graduation Test, determines a student’s future in all of two and a half hours: the allotted time assigned to each section. When the test was first introduced in 2003, 76.9% of the affected students failed. These same students were denied their high school diplomas if they did not successfully pass each section of the test when they repeated it in their senior year. This was a plain injustice, which deprived college-bound students of the plans that they had built for themselves. Ohio students continue to feel the pressure to pass this standardized test. Families are often left to search for less attractive alternatives, such as the “GED” or General Educational Development Test, for their perfectly able sons and daughters. Similarly, standardized tests including the SAT Reasoning Test are used to determine whether or not a student will be considered for undergraduate programs. These are insufficient methods of measuring success in an individual, and their consequences carry damaging effects.

The emphasis that the educational system places on standardized test performance undermines the importance of exploring a student's personal interests and inquiries. By taking these inherent parts of learning from the classroom, the system deprives students of a solid foundation in education and discourages their individual interests in a particular area to grow. Developing such interests is the springboard of choosing and preparing for a suitable career, and this preparation for life outside of the classroom is the purpose of an education. To put this into other words, standardized testing limits the system's ability to accomplish its own goal.

In states where schools are not required to administer exit exams, a lower dropout rate exists. This illustrates for you that standardized tests like the abovementioned Ohio Graduation Test are actually discouraging graduation. These tests do not motivate a student to succeed; instead, they steer them in the opposite direction. Failing to complete high school is a tragic but not uncommon mistake in the present world. Employers look down upon adults who have not received a high school education. Colleges will not consider them for their services. Lower wages and unemployment sit among the list of obstacles that the decision to drop out often creates. Would you want this to be the fate for your own son or daughter, or your friend? The problem will persist as long as the system of standardized testing is in place. You possess a certain concern for students nationwide, who have the potential to make something successful of themselves. Take responsibility in making this happen. It is essential for students to discover the careers that suit their personalities and abilities at an early age. They do this through exploring the available options. It is the duty of the schools to make this possible. Performance-based assessments will contribute to the realization of this goal. Your part in the process is to decide where you will stand and support your beliefs with a clear voice. You are the parents, the students, and the inspired leaders of a nation whose educational system is deterred by the crack that standardized tests have formed. This is a case of reordering misplaced goals. Will you become a part of the solution?

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