When I Googled “standardized testing,” I found over 7.3 million results. The first three that showed up? “How Standardized Testing Damages Education,” “Standardized Testing and Its Victims,” and “Alternatives to Standardized Testing.” I got the same negative results when I searched through academic websites like Google Scholar or the University of Pennsylvania’s “Call for Papers,” MLA’s central hub for academic conferences. That is, I found scholar after scholar arguing against a one-size-fits-all educational pedagogy. 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. 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...
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