For the past few decades the American school system has been caught in the throes of education reform. One of the most significant developments of this reform has been the advent of nationwide standardized testing. Since the early 2000’s, public K-12 school districts have been required to administer high-stakes, standardized tests to students in order to receive funding from state and local governments. While this may seem like a decent idea at first, the last decade has shown that it is not the students, and sometimes not even the school districts that benefit from these state mandated testing regimes. So in the hopes of illuminating some of the more detrimental aspects of high-stakes testing, here are seven problems caused by the current paradigm.
- Obsession with standardized testing is stifling creativity in the classroom. When passing a test is the main focus of a class, it becomes much harder to enjoy learning by exploring the material in creative ways. In other words, much of the fun and excitement of learning new things can be suffocated by an overbearing emphasis on the importance of doing well on a test. This quote from retired teacher, and winner of the 2005 Disney Teacher Award for Creativity and Innovation, Ron Maggiano, illustrates the real effect that standardized testing has on the classroom, “The overemphasis on testing has led many teachers to eliminate projects and activities that provide students with an opportunity to be creative and imaginative, and scripted curriculum has become the norm in many classrooms. There is nothing creative or imaginative about filling in a bubble sheet for a multiple choice test.”
- These tests are being used to evaluate and punish teachers and schools. Teachers or school districts whose students do not preform well on tests tend to be severely punished for low scores. This “test and punish” paradigm makes things very difficult for the teachers and school districts with perpetually low scores who end up having their pay docked, losing funding, and losing resources, making that much harder to succeed on the next exam. Basically, the districts and individuals who need the most help, are in reality, those that receive the least assistance and support as a result of the current standardized testing system.
- The curriculum suffers when testing becomes the primary focus. While the vast majority of educators would agree that “teaching the test” is wrong, it has become standard operating procedure in many classrooms. This means that teachers are spending less time developing a curriculum based on the needs of students, and more time on meeting the requirements of the tests. Once again this is a direct result of the fear of losing ones job if test scores do not rise.
- Standardized tests do not accurately measure what students have learned. These types of high-stakes tests are not able to accurately asses the critical thinking skills of the student taking the test. Many students who have shown mastery of the material in other ways, actually end up doing poorly on standardized tests for a variety of reasons. The stress of “test anxiety” is a perfect example of why a student who has good grades and understands the material thoroughly might score low on a state test.
- Fear of being punished for low test scores can lead to a culture of cheating. There have been numerous scandals in public schools in recent years where teachers and administrators have been caught helping students cheat for fear of being penalized for low test scores. It is appalling to think that these tests are so feared by schools that they will do anything to avoid punishment. However, this is the current reality of standardized testing in American schools, and until a remedy is found, scandals like this will continue to happen all over the country.
- Obsession with testing results in a one-size-fits all mentality about curriculum.
Every student is a unique individual with their own strengths and weaknesses. Standardized test do not take this into account, and instead use a “cookie cutter” approach to education. This strategy ignores the unique talents, interests, and abilities of each student, and as such, fails to recognize the importance of individual achievement in education. The specific needs of children who may suffer from leaning disabilities are also not taken into account, resulting in lower scores than necessary for kids who may have just needed a little extra time or some other accommodation.
- The only people that benefit from these tests are the companies that make them.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the entire standardized testing system is the fact that it is not the students, or teachers, or schools that benefit from these tests. Instead it is the large corporations, such as Pearson Education, who benefit the most from the nationwide administration of state testing. These types of companies show little interest in providing students with a quality education, and are more concerned with selling more and more tests, textbooks, and training programs. They clearly do not have the best interests of students or schools at heart, as they have continually participated in this high-stakes fear mongering, duping district after district into buying their products in order to meet state and federal regulations. So if something is to be done about the current state of standardized testing, loosening the stranglehold that these kinds of companies have the American education system is the perfect place to start.