Why Standardized Tests Need Work

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Since their origin in 1905, standardized testing has been a widely debated topic. Specifically, whether they are a useful part of a student’s education. Currently, tests measure a range of math, reading, and science skills in students but fail to cover important knowledge like common sense, moral values, creativity and so on. Standardized testing has also been proven responsible for narrowing the curriculum. Standardized testing as we know it needs a massive revamp for the good of students nationally.

One large problem with standardized tests can be better explained by this real question from a 6th grade standardized test in the science content area:

Plant’s fruit always contains seeds. Which of the items below is not a fruit?

As is apparent, this question assesses a student’s background knowledge on various foods. This information is not part of the 6th grade curriculum which is concerning for several reasons. Any child who has come across celery at some point will know that it is the correct answer to this question. However, children who come from poor or rural areas, might not be exposed to the same experiences as children in affluent communities.


Therefore, this distinction would alter the students’ abilities to respond to the question. This is not an uncommon issue and one that could seriously affect a child’s ability to answer the question. James Popham, award winning author and test developer states: “Clearly, if children know about pumpkins and celery, they’ll do better on this item than will the children who know only about apples and oranges.” (Popham 8) This is a prime example of how a child’s economic and social statuses can get mixed up into test performance. The problem becomes larger when people blame test scores on poor teaching quality. Just because a student gets a few of the numerous questions, such as the previous example, wrong it doesn't mean that the teachers are ineffective. This can help to explain why poorer areas of the country receive lower test scores in general. These non-curricular questions widen the score gap between those raised with stimulus rich environments and those from less privileged backgrounds. These types of factors should not play a part in accurate test scores.

Another glaring problem with current standardized tests is that they only measure a small portion of what makes education valuable. Gerald Bracy, an education policy researcher and PHD in psychology, notices that standardized tests fail to measure factors such as creativity, resilience, motivation, morals, empathy, advanced problem solving skills, and countless other important areas. Researchers at MIT tracked 1,400 eighth graders in boston public schools and concluded that test improvements had no connection to a student’s fluid intelligence. (Markoff 6) Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in real time scenarios, and identify patterns. It is a very important part of our brain that we use constantly. A 2001 study by brookings institute showed that 50% to 80% of test score improvements were caused by fluctuations that had nothing to do with school or the curriculum. (Markoff 2) These are alarming statistics. Standardized tests should cover at least some of the natural human qualities and find more accurate ways to measure them.

A global issue with standardized testing is that it can negatively influence the teaching quality of a school. For example, a five year long study beginning in 2002 showed that pressure faced by teachers to “teach to the test” overrode the amount of actual cognitive work given to students. Put more simply, the teachers were so busy preparing students for monstrous tests, that they had little time to teach valuable parts of the true curriculum. A national 2007 study by the Education Policy Center or EPC showed that since 2001, 44% of school districts had reduced teaching time for subjects like social studies and science to focus on subjects like math and language arts which are featured more on the test. (Markoff 6) They ended up cutting these subjects by an average of 145 minutes a week just in order to teach to the test. This problem has not been improving over time. In fact, some districts are reserving more than a quarter of the year for test prep alone. This means less teaching hours of important subjects. Simply enriching and updating the content on these tests will solve this problem. If tests were given more content in science and social studies and had a larger area for problem solving, many would benefit.
Although there are many pitfalls to standardized testing, there are a few counter-arguments that need to be addressed. It has been shown that 93% of students noticed an improvement in their crystallized knowledge.


(Bidwell 1) Crystallized Knowledge is the information we keep from previous learning. The issue with this argument is that similar statistics could be observed on just a typical test or quiz. The problem with standardized testing is that there is no super quick solution. The education system cannot simply be rid of tests that only require some editing, but these measures shouldn’t be left as is. The most efficient solution that comes to mind is a revision of the current content of standardized tests to make them more beneficial to students and teachers alike. In sum, standardized tests currently do not do enough to assess a student’s knowledge and intelligence.

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