The Cons of Standardized Testing

Almost every American can agree that educating our children is a top priority. That being said, wide gaps still exist in the quality of public schooling in the U.S., from curriculum content to money spent annually per student. For years, state and national governments have been using various types and levels of standardized tests to measure what and how well students are learning. Using this information, they plan to better regulate and equalize education for all students.

But is it really possible to understand the breadth of what students are learning based on reading and math scores? Is reform brought about by standardized testing actually helping the disadvantaged students and schools it claims to? Furthermore, is the intense pressure brought about by testing actually harming both teaching and learning styles?

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - Albert Einstein
In my mind, the answer to the first two questions are "No!" while the answer to the third is a resounding "YES!" Although standardized testing has been around for decades, let's consider the Bush Administration's much criticized "No Child Left Behind" act (NCLB). This national program will further influence states to test student progress based soley on reading and math scores. Determining the quality of a child's education based on these two subjects alone is ridiculously unfair, as it ignores other subjects in the humanities, arts and sciences and subsequently results in less funding and support for subjects not pertinent to the test.
CONSIDER THESE TROUBLING FACTS: Additionally, the pressure of performing well on these tests (especially those that determine graduation from high school) causes teachers to structure their curriculum according to the test, rather than helping students gain real-world knowledge that will help them succeed in life. This shift in classroom focus causes students to lose interest in school and may even encourage students (especially those from a minority or low socioeconomic background) to drop out of school. If one of the goals of education is to instill students with practical tools they will need to go on to college and a career, standardized testing is in fact opposing this goal. As hard as it is to believe, schools that produce favorable results are often rewarded with increased funding, while schools and students labeled as "failing" are left out in the cold.
  • Under NCLB, math and reading scores for students in secondary school have actually been declining
  • Racial gaps in achievement have been widening at the high school level, and dropout rates are increasing in many states
  • Some states, such as Massachusetts, require that students pass a state exam before being allowed to graduate from high school, regardless of their grades in classes
What would be a better measure than a single test? Developing a locally- based comprehensive testing plan that considers the wide range of subjects taught in classes as well as differing teaching styles would benefit both teachers and students. Moreover, truly helping underperforming students and schools rather than widening the gap in quality of education would help public education in the U.S. finally get on the right track.
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Copyright 2005 Molly G. Hicks, CIS 95-002