Standardized Testing

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The Effects of Standardized Tests on Education
Lawrence Jackson
Armstrong Atlantic State University

Standardized tests have been debated and argued for as many years as they have existed. It is worthwhile to look at some of the arguments for both sides and find out if there can be some middle ground. Two important factors of standardized tests are the way the tests are administered and how the results are handled. These two issues may be more important than the tests themselves.

There must be ways to have accountability in most areas of society. In schools, we need to know if teachers are teaching and if students are learning. There has to be some way to judge whether the system is working. Standardized tests can show students’ strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, teachers then develop strategies to address the needs of the student that the test has outlined. These tests can help predict selection at college, justification for scholarships, and selection for employment. They can document achievement, both for the student and the teacher. “The fundamental ideas behind the construction and use of tests are not beyond our understanding”. says Andrew J. Strenio Jr. These tests “certify that the examinee does have the requisite skills and competencies needed to graduate from high school programs, practice in an occupation or profession, or receive elevated status within a profession”. (Defending Standardized Testing; Phelps, Richard. We could not function in society without some basic standards and these standards need to be uniform throughout our society. Chauncey and Dobbin write in their book Testing: It’s Place in Education Today:“Every school and almost every teacher uses a test at some point in the process of planning instruction that will fit the student and his capacities”. Standardized testing is just a larger scale for comparison. It offers feedback to the student and the school system about where achievement is in certain areas. But it should not be the only criteria for what we consider success.

There is a great deal of criticism of standardized tests. Making test scores public is a way to see them as indicators of school quality. This has increased their value 100% but not in a particularly good way. Officials use an assortment of bribes and threats to coerce everyone into concentrating on test results. If the scores are high, the bribes may include bonuses for teachers and schools. Students may receive food, tickets to theme parks or sporting events, exemptions from in-class final exams, and even scholarships. The threats include loss of funding or accreditation for schools, while students may be held back a year or denied a high school diploma if they don’t test well, regardless of their over-all academic record. All together, these tactics are known as ‘high stakes’ testing. There may not be data on this, but Alfie Kohn states “the people who work most closely with kids are the most likely to understand the limits of standardized tests.” He says that “support for testing seems to grow as you move away from the students, going from teacher to principal to central office administrator to school board member to state board member, state legislator, and governor.”

Standardized Minds by Peter Sacks talks about the unquestioned position of standardized testing which he terms “an unhealthy and enduring obsession”. He also writes about the cost of all this testing. “The amount Americans spend taking tests, preparing for tests, scoring tests, and running magnificently elaborate testing programs in schools, colleges and the workplace is stunning, probably running in the billions of dollars each year. It is possible that Americans may be taking as many as 600 million standardized tests annually, or more than two tests per year for every man, woman, and child in the United States.” Unreasonable demands of ‘higher scores’ from schools has many negative...
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