Standardized Tests – Are We Losing Focus?

standardized testsTeachers, parents, and students all face the stress of superfluous standardized tests. Teachers are accountable for training students to take these exams – and pass them. Parents are often responsible for making sure their children are constantly preparing for these tests. Students have perhaps the biggest burdens of all: they must not only repeatedly attempt to regurgitate information in the forms of shaded bubbles, but they bear the labels those test results give from the earliest ages. Average. Below-Average. Above-Average. They also suffer the unintended consequence of missing out on the opportunities to learn how to learn. Instead they are all too often in classrooms where teachers must teach to the test.

Author and outspoken critic of standardized testing (among other failures in education), Alfie Kohn digests and dissects the increasing ritual of testing students in the United States. In his article Standardized Testing and Its Victims, Kohn submits eight facts that support his theory that standardized testing is in part ruining our schools. Among these facts, Kohn disseminates the ever-increasing trend to test more and more, and to place increased value on standardized tests as well.

Kohn is not alone in his distrust of and distaste for standardized tests. Professor Rhona Weinstein reports on research that demonstrates that standardized tests are actually eroding the education of our children. Kohn, Weinstein, and others like Sir Ken Robinson, find many reasons why standardized tests are not leading our children into brighter futures, but instead showing them a limited viewpoint of themselves, as if they are seeing themselves in a mirror which is mostly covered in black and only allowing small glimpses of reflection.

  • Few countries around the world place the emphasis on standardized testing like seen in America. These other countries do not routinely test children younger than high school age, and are countries with high academic outcomes.
  • Standardized tests pressure teachers to teach to the test. The job requirements to end the school year with test scores of certain marks take away from the job description of actually teaching children.
  • Schools that focus on standardized tests are sometimes forced to decrease classes and opportunities for arts, physical education, social sciences, and more so they can devote more time to test prep.
  • Standardized tests measure students’ abilities to answer finite questions in limited areas of focus. They test a student’s ability to weed through possible answers, make guestimates, and interpret the language on a test.
  • Education in America is at risk of losing teachers who have the passion and ability to educate children who can think for themselves. The New York Times reports that the pressures to increase test scores results in schools unintentionally making the difficult job of teaching even more demanding, and less rewarding.
  • Students who can afford more tutors and rigorous test preparation courses might be able to improve their own test scores, but then increase the already growing gap between socioeconomic groups.

Even among these voices of reason, there are those who feel that standardized tests are the best ways to measure our children’s performances in school and their preparedness for their futures. Some researchers report that standardized test scores are among the best predictors of college and graduate school performances. However, perhaps this is because those students who are able to “test well” are the same students who are able to “test well” on in-class pop-quizzes and the regurgitation of information in college courses. Perhaps both standardized tests and college grades are not the best predictors of life successes and abilities after all.

As Kohn writes, “The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.”

About 12 years ago my oldest took her first standardized test, and I was anxious and wracked with self-doubt as the “teacher” in our homeschool. At the age of 7 and homeschooled all of her life she had never taken a standardized exam. I felt as though I was about to be assessed more than she, and the future of our academic choices resided in those test results. Although Iknew she was extremely capable and bright, I did not know how she would perform on a test where each circle needed to be shaded precisely and she could not question the questions.

Fast-forward many years and I now know the truth about standardized tests. I know before my kids take their exams if they are passing or failing math, excelling in reading, or surpassing expectations – I don’t need a test to tell me that. My kids don’t need a test to show them how much they know or don’t know. Every year now they take the exams, as mandated by our state’s homeschooling laws, and the kids actually have fun with them and have learned to look at them almost as a game. We don’t fret over scores or fear time limits. The scores are just a generalized glimpse of a small portion of their abilities, but they don’t reflect all of who they are and who they are becoming.

I, and teachers and parents like me, can spend countless hours injecting the precise materials we know will be tested into our kids, but we won’t be teaching our children lessons that will let them succeed. They won’t learn to learn and think for themselves, and they won’t have the opportunities to be creative, insightful, and questioning. Without those qualities, what will our future look like?

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