The UnCollege Blog

Why Standardized Tests Are Failing America

In the US, students are given standardized tests earlier and more frequently than anywhere else in the world. Ask any school administrator and they’ll tell you that there is a lot riding on these tests. Scores on both federal and state standardized tests are used to make important decisions like where children get placed, hiring and firing of faculty, school budgets, and curriculum changes. I believe these tests have become the educational undercurrent that, like a riptide, is pulling schools and students further away from effective learning and out to a sea of bureaucracy and uniformity. Standardized tests have mutated and swelled beyond their appropriate purpose, and something has to change this growing goliath.

Tests are poorly administered and designed.

Standardized tests are often poorly designed, with efficiency of grading as a higher priority than testing of comprehension. They act as a quick and easy way to gauge progress, but their accuracy is questionable. Test scores attach a quantitative measure to something more qualitative in nature. As Robert Farr, a professor at Indiana University and creator of many standardized tests, puts it, “I don't think there's any way to build a multiple-choice question that allows students to show what they can do with what they know.”

The biggest problem with the design of these tests is the time they take away from classroom time. They can waste hours and days of valuable teaching time. Instead of being exposed to new information and exploring new concepts, students are compelled to regurgitate the simplest bites of information that can be gauged on a multiple choice exam.

Standardized tests do not realistically measure skills, knowledge, or ability, and the issue goes beyond elementary, middle, and high school.

In the real world, very few people are isolated and forced to answer questions from memory under a time limit. Why, then, is every child in the US forced to do this, under immense pressure, multiple times a year? They take place in an artificial, unnatural environment, and as a result, can’t truly demonstrate what a child knows or is able to do.

These tests are not only being administered by the the local and federal governments; the obsession has gone so far that to get into nearly any college, students have to pay the ACT and SAT corporations to be able to take their specific standardized tests and report their scores to institutions of higher education. The real kicker: these highly important scores that are the baseline for most college admissions don’t even predict academic success.

They increase student stress.

Test anxiety has quickly grown into a subfield of educational psychology. Studies have shown that the more emphasis is placed on a test, the more susceptible students are to stress and performing poorly, which results in increasingly invalid results. Because curriculum, programming, and funding are oriented around these tests, the teachers and students become geared towards results on an unhealthy level. Students have turned to cheating, drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, or simply giving up.

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