Standardized Testing

November 17, 2011

Political Theory

Standardized testing is dreaded amongst most high school students and even college students. We spend months studying for these tests and then spend another few hours actually taking the test. We then wait for weeks for our scores and those stupid scores determine our future. If you do well – CONGRATULATIONS! You can attend a top college or graduate school program. If not- well then your options are retaking it and coughing up another hundred bucks or attending a lesser well-known school. I personally believe the importance placed on these exams is unfair.

 Colleges rely upon these scores during the admissions process among other   things such as high school GPA, curriculum, recommendation letters, essay, and extra curricular activities. However, the weight of influence the standardized tests provides for college acceptance is unfair to students. In order to help students master taking the test, people pay for coaching or tutoring, which can cost up to a thousand dollars. Test prep companies claim the exam’s format is predictable and repetitive. By studying a set of “specific reasoning skills” such as, memorizing directions, answering easy questions first, and drilling students with practice quizzes, it is easy to drastically raise scores. However, not everyone can afford this costly help. What about those students are come from lower income areas but deserve to attend a top school? Just because their parents or guardians could not afford to hire them a private tutor and they studied test-taking techniques by themselves – should they really be punished?

Universities claim that standardized testing helps them sort through applications quickly. Large universities do not have the time to read each essay and look through all their extra curricular activities for each individual application. However, Christina Perez, a reform advocate for FairTest, points out that these universities do not know who had the advantage of being trained and who has not, so they could not fairly compare two applicants’ scores. Standardized tests force all students to test under similar conditions, and accommodate only one style of test taking. For students who do not perform well on timed, multiple-choice exams their scores may not portray what they are capable of doing.

Sadly, the pressure of standardized testing has pushed down into younger generations. Middle school and elementary students are now under the pressure to score well on standardized tests. In Michigan, third and fourth grade students are forced to sit through days of MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) testing. Now the schools are being punished for their young students for not scoring well. For years a New Hampshire school flourished on the state examinations, but now, the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for 100% proficiency on examinations by 2014, deemed the New Hampshire school failing.

Cheryl Senter for The New York Times

Linda Rief says teachers' faith in themselves "has been turned aside" by standardized testing.

Their school has their teachers teach individually planned lessons rather than out of the textbook, so many students struggled since the test was catered to the test book. Schools are being punished for not teaching to the test now. Also, the school was deemed failing because a handful of their special education students were not able to score high enough on the exam. Originally the school mainstreamed the special education students with a special education teacher working with them individually, but now in order to appease the No Child Left Behind law, they need to be taken from the classroom and have individualized instruction. As an Elementary Ed major, I personally believe keeping these students separate hurts them socially. They receive the impression that they are not smart enough to be with the rest of the class.

Standardized testing doesn’t just hurt students from enrolling in a good school, but it affects young elementary students and their schools. They are forced to receive an education that is geared towards the standardized tests and they aren’t able to explore things outside of their textbooks. I understand the importance of making sure students are receiving a good education and that schools are not falling behind. However, these laws are impeding children’s’ education. What do you think? Are standardized tests more harmful than helpful? If so, how can we modify these exams?



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13 Comments on “Standardized Testing”

  1. chadmach Says:

    I would agree that there is too much emphasis placed on standardized testing. It is incredibly disappointing to know that colleges do not look through everyones essays even though that may be the best place the student shines.

    I am a tutor at a Ypsilanti elementary school and I know that those kids spent many hours of their day practicing for the MEAP. When I was in high school, my school developed a class called Test prep which every Junior had to take and it was supposed to prepare them for the ACT. I think it is only a matter of time before classes like these find their way into Junior Highs and Elementary schools too. What is worse is that state funding is based of what these students gets on these standardized tests, so that school s will spend more time doing practice tests and covering specific material that is believed to be on the exam. If this keeps happening, what will be the point of having teachers get a college degree when all they are doing is conforming all their lessons to a standardized test? Maybe we should get the government out of education?

  2. briank726 Says:

    I think that standardized testing is useful to an extent, but that schools are going over the top with them. They are advantageous to those who can afford test prep classes and tutors, which creates an unfairness among the total body of students. I think standardized testing in elementary school is especially extreme, and takes away from the emphasis on quality of education. If the focus education revolves around standardized tests, students will be lacking in development in other educational areas, such as speaking or creative thinking. I think that standardized testing should not be abolished completely, but limited to certain institutions like colleges, law schools, med schools, etc. I recently took the LSAT and preparing for it was very intense. It required endless hours of studying and prep course. Since law schools weight LSAT scores very heavily, applicants have to put very substantial effort into preparing for it, which leads to stress and burn-out. I think to implement something similar in elementary school settings would create adverse effects for these younger kids. It would be beneficial to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing for these age groups.

  3. hoeylue Says:

    From my personal experience I can say that standardized testing is a good way to measure a student’s ability and motivation to do something. These tests are developed and tested by qualified scientists and tests have proven the high correlation between test sores and college grades.
    In my view, these tests give students a chance to prove their quality independent form factors like the relationship of a student to his or her teacher, participation in class, having done homework and so on. Of course it is wrong to say that a single test can reflect a student’s real potential, as the test score is also affected by many factors like preparation, tiredness and luck but it is still a very reliable source compared to other ways of testing abilities like interviews, where students can screw up just because of their nervousness.
    And in contrast to an IQ test, for example, Universities use different tests, which not only test the general abilities of the students but also abilities specific to the subject they want to study.

  4. nja91 Says:

    If a balance can be found for standardized tests, I think they can be used a much more effective manner to help assess development in individuals and schools. Right now, however, I think that they have too much weight in education and are creating very bad environment for students to learn in. According to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing “The U.S. is the only economically advanced nation to rely heavily on multiple-choice tests. Other nations use performance-based assessment where students are evaluated on the basis of real work such as essays, projects and activities. Ironically, because these nations do not focus on teaching to multiple-choice tests, they even score higher than U.S. students on those kinds of tests.” If we could come up with new evaluations such as writing essays, group projects, and presentations, standardized testing wouldn’t play such a huge role in evaluation our educations systems and students. Colleges could also place less weight on these tests and more emphasis on students being well rounded through extracurricular activities, grades, and essays. No one expects standardized tests to go away, but if we can create a balance in which they don’t play such a huge role, we can reshape the learning environment and improve the education system in more ways than one.

  5. bonannianthony Says:

    I like this post and I agree with it nearly one hundred percent. Overall, most colleges put way to much weight on standardized tests, whether it be the ACT or SAT. I personally think standardized testing is not a good way to judge students. I know people who have 4.0’s and 25’s on the ACT and on the other hand I have friends who got 2.8’s and 3.0’s and got 33’s or 34’s on the ACT. From going to many meetings with college admission officers they are often confused by the vast discrepancy between grades and standardized test scores.

    I personally feel that grades are more important than test scores on judging students. Would you rather judge someone on four hours of work or four years? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. Also, there are some schools who will not even look at you unless you get to that basic threshold of what the school wants. It isn’t fair that something you do for four hours is put at an equal level as something in which the four years of high school.

  6. shmily4k Says:

    In my opinion, it is not fair to use standardized testing as the standard in admitting students into colleges. Standardized testing such as SAT usually only includes mathematics, writings, and readings in the format of multiple-choice questions. Many students who are not good at multiple-choice questions or writings would not be able to do well in these tests. However, many of these students might have skills and talents that those who can do well in the tests don’t. For example, they might have talents in singing, drawing, dancing, or have outstanding leadership skills, analytical skills, communication skills etc. Standardized testing would not be able to reveal all of these talents and skills of the students.

    Standardized tests are also more harmful than helpful for the purpose of education, which is to teach students the knowledge that they do not have. However, with the current standardized testing system, students are forced to focus on how to perform well in these tests rather than how to learn more knowledge. It is more about learning the skills and techniques of doing these tests than learning the knowledge behind them. For example, more than half of the students in Hong Kong’s high schools would go to tutoring just to learn the essential techniques to perform well in the standardized tests.

  7. bmazus Says:

    I think this is a great post. I personally remember my junior year of high school being consumed with studying for the SAT’s, and arguing with my parents that I did not need to take the ACT’s and then actually taking them (for no reason). I do agree that there is monumental pressure put on people who are taking standardized tests in order to get into college out of high school, or a graduate program. But I believe it is justified. How else can you measure a person’s intelligence level on such as a massive scale like the SAT’s or ACT’s does? In the year 2006 around a million and a half people took the SAT’s. How else is the University of Michigan supposed to compare the Valedictorian of a graduating class of 50 to the Valedictorian of a graduating class of 2000? There is not many other way than standardized testing.
    Where I do agree with out is that it is not good that our schools in today’s day and age are completely geared towards standardized testing. I think a perfect example is to consider the way AP classes work in many high schools. Once the AP exam has been taken by the students, in my school the class is basically over for the year. The workload becomes essentially nothing and most of the classes do not even make the students take a final.

  8. beaurh Says:

    I believe that standardized tests are necessary for the application process. I remember junior year that there were certain scores that you had to get for certain schools. The SAT and ACT weed out certain students that may not be suitable for prestigious universities. It’s also so convenient for the universities whom have a standardized test bar. They can throw out the applicants that do not stand a chance.

    Although I do believe that standardized testing is convenient and necessary, I do not like the idea of buying a score. SAT and ACT tutors can cost up to 300 dollars a session, and are said to greatly help increase your score. I know tons of people tutored relentlessly since their freshman year solely to get into a good university. These wealthier students have a clear advantage over a student who cannot afford 1200 dollars a month just on the SAT. This is again an example of smaller factors that broaden the gap in social classes.

  9. masonbear Says:

    While standardized testing does have some biases (finances to be instructed on test taking strategies among others) it is a necessary component of educational evaluation. Also, there are special considerations given to individuals that qualify for them. I personally know someone that was given unlimited time on the ACT due to a learning disability. Without standardized testing college admissions would not have a base of the applicant’s general knowledge or IQ. By the end of high school I understood that GPA is not solely representative of intelligence. The primary factor of grades is the effort put forth. An individual that doesn’t do any homework yet still aces the exams will not be adequately reflected by a grade point average. Standardized tests are an effective way to measure the potential of a student. Those that studied endlessly in high school and got a 4.0 but are of mediocre intelligence need to be sorted from those that put in less work and received the same grades. At a competitive university everyone has to study that much and those that can’t understand complex concepts will be left behind. People might complain that although they did everything right in high school (good grades, extra-curriculas, and essays) their ACT wasn’t high enough to get into an Ivy League school. However, at those educational institutions without a brilliant mind (as reflected by standardized tests) there’s not enough time to study and succeed in classes. Standardized tests are necessary as a way to sort students in terms of natural ability and potential.

  10. reidmech7892 Says:

    I agree that standardize testing has blown way out of proportion in recent years. Yes, it is an ideal way to represent an applicant’s readiness for college level work; however, with the tutoring and classes available now to “cheat” the test, test scores now do not solely reflect this.

    In my opinion, it seems that standardized tests, specifically with the SAT, they reflect a student’s wealth more than it does their aptitude. Though this does not go for all test-takers, it can be argued that those with money are able to afford tutoring or classes in order to greatly boost their test scores, where as poorer students have to take the test cold. Having said this, colleges should not weight the SAT and ACT so heavily. They should be aware that the scores don’t accurately indicate an applicant’s potential college success anymore. Instead colleges, and even the big universities, need to review applicants more holistically not only for the student’s benefit, but for the university’s benefit as well. This can be said since if a student with a high SAT score yet does poorly in school otherwise is accepted into a difficult, prestigious university, it is likely that the student will not be able to handle the work and will ultimately drop out. As for the university, this will look bad for freshman retention rates and graduation rates, which no university trying to pull student applications wants to add to their stigma.

    In all, schools that now offer SAT optional applications are on the right track in finding better ways to review student applications more fairly. However, this seems to be the most feasible for smaller schools, which have enough man-power and time to look over all of the applications. For the future, I believe large universities need to find another college aptitude indicator for admissions, whether it be through extensive interviews or standardized tests administered independently by the specify university to the applicant.

  11. hoeylue Says:

    Something that certainly hasn’t changed in the last centuries and decades is the distribution of intelligence among people. Even if the general intelligence level might have risen compared to 100 years ago, and this is simply because nowadays people are more aware and depended on intelligence than they used to be, the amount of really smart people and dumb will always remain very low. The predominant part will only have an average IQ as this is normally distributed in the population. See From that we can infer that the inflation of the grade is not caused by an actual increase in the skills and abilities of students but by other factors. Personally, I think that students nowadays care much more about grades than students in the past. This is simply because grades are crucial to their later career. This used to be different even one generation ago. Many outstanding people from older generations have a rather ordinary educational background. Even older generations served as soldiers during wars. Today losing one year doing something different than going to school is considered as a waste of time. The current situation is therefore just a temporary side effect of our way of life and that the education system soon will find a solution to stop this development, e.g. by implementing more standardized test at schools and universities.

  12. chkeeler Says:

    Standardized testing is the downfall of the American education system. Although I, as most U of M students, did quite well on these tests, there are countless students who dread standardized tests and are not prepared for them in the same manner as high-performing students. Because our government allocates funding to public schools based on the income levels within the community, there is an alarming gap in test score averages between low-income regions and high-icnome regions. Wealthier schools areas are subject to the latest technologies in the classrooms and money spent on quality books and teaching resources. Students who come from poverty-stricken environments are continually given less opportunity to succeed in school because of the resources they are provided, and thus struggle to achieve higher education.
    What can be done to curb this disturbing trend? Well first of all, we need to adopt a more all-encompassing education system. There need to be different teaching specialists within each classroom that are experts with different teaching styles. Students should be screened at a young age to determine their learning styles, and should be assigned to certain groups that they will work with throughout their elementary years. This will help them to think and learn in a fashion that best suits each student, giving them the best chance to succeed. Once they have completed elementary and middle school , they will be prepared to take standardized tests in high school as all students will have been given equal opportunity to learn in their early years.

  13. verlong Says:

    This was an extremely interesting post. I am also an elementary ed major, and feel very passionately about standardized tests. I won’t go into nearly as much detail as I could, but I will say a few things.

    Standardized tests measure achievement in schools, not intelligence. That’s something that’s important to note about the tests. I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of achievement though. The tests are problematic in so many ways, and are geared to be easy for some people (who think certain ways) and difficult for others (who don’t think like that).

    Some teachers literally spend one year focusing on science and social studies (or something like that) because that’s what the standardized test is on that year, and switch to math and language arts for the next year. It is pretty obvious where problems can arise from that. For one thing, students lose an entire year of learning about and thinking about math (and the other subjects), which will cause problems when they learn about it in the future. For another thing, the teachers are teaching about how the tests and questions are set up, not the comprehension of the material. There is no taking advantage of the strengths of teachers because they have to teach the same stuff for the same test. Focus is on the wrong goal, and students are less interested in learning.

    The question of how to improve these tests is something I’ve struggled with. To be honest, I would love to completely get rid of them. But how would we test schools and teachers? Do we really want to continue punishing “failing schools” when in reality they need all the help they can get, NOT more motivation to “try to do better?” I think we should really reevaluate how we look at things. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer as to how we should change everything. If the answer were simple, it would already be implemented in schools, and there would no longer be an issue. Hopefully something gets resolved soon. It is not fair to the students who are living through these conditions and are being punished for things out of their control.

    Also, if you’re looking at a new perspective on standardized tests, you should take Educ 118!

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