Standardized Testing

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Standardized testing is the most commonly used and well known method of testing used in the United States and many other countries around the world, but can harm educational quality and promote inequality. Standardized testing is used to determine student achievement, growth and progress. Standardized tests are tests that attempt to present unbiased material under the same, predetermined conditions and with consistent scoring and interpretation so that students have equal opportunities to give correct answers and receive accurate assessments. The idea is that these similarities allow the highest degree of certainty in comparing results across schools, school districts, or states. Standardized tests are also used to determine progress in schools, a students’ ability to attend colleges and universities, and to place students in programs suited to their abilities. Examples of standardized testing currently used in Ohio include the Ohio Proficiency Test, the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT).

Standardized testing dates all the way back to the 1880s. When Horace Mann developed a test to administer to a group of students his intentions were to determine how the students were doing at their current levels and decide if they were capable of advancing to a higher level. These early tests had no negative repercussions but rather answered a simple question: Should the student remain at their current level or proceed to the next level of academic difficulty.

In the early 1930s the first admissions test was developed by James B. Conant, president of Harvard University. He was searching for a reliable way to measure student achievement without taking into consideration who was taking the test or what background they came from. He believed this would provide a real rationale for excluding those who they did not particularly want to enter Harvard. He was soon proved wrong as those from humble beginnings began to score very high on the tests and ultimately earned acceptance into Harvard. This test was eventually adapted to become what is known today as the Scholastic Aptitude Test or better known as the SAT.

In 1994, the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA) began making efforts to analyze student scores but had no real consequences for schools whose students were performing poorly. Redirecting the focus to actual test scores was a major step in improving education in America and was most likely the motivational factor and idea behind the next and current step taken in education reform.

In 2001, President, George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This act combines the goals of the ESEA and IASA, but rather than just setting goals, NCLB lays out consequences for not achieving high enough test scores. The act created a plan of action for schools as well as programs to help fix the problems and keep them from reoccurring. While standardized testing has been utilized for over 100 years, it has never carried the weight that it does today.

Teachers are having problems with the emphasis the NCLB Act has placed on standardized test scores. There is such great pressure for students to receive a certain score or show the amount of improvement required that curriculum has become too narrow and teachers are focusing only on getting through the test material and less on real learning. For teachers, that creates stress to meet requirements on time. They have to decipher through the material and decide what will be on the test and what will not be on the test. Ultimately they are forced to choose between what’s “important” enough to teach and what will be left out. When the curriculum is narrowed to teaching test taking skills only, the students lose out on a rich and full education. If a teacher chooses to teach what they know, but may not be found on a test, may affect students scores which in turn will reflect negatively on the...
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