The Standardized Testing Battle: Test Preparation vs. Valuable Curriculum
In order to prevent the United States from dropping further below other countries in education we need to eliminate standardized testing. For students to excel, they need to be taught beneficial information instead of test preparation. Recently, there have been many scandals concerning the use of standardized testing. What are standardized tests? They are tests, usually consisting of multiple choice questions, where students are asked to answer with one correct answer. The uses of these tests are harmful to the curriculum in schools, are unfair among students, affect the morale of teachers, and distort the actual abilities of students.
Today, most school curriculum is solely based on preparing for the content that will be on tests. This is called “teaching to the test.” Teachers do this because they are under considerable pressure for test scores to increase. Out of desperation, teachers sometimes drill and force practice for the upcoming tests. As a result of test preparation, teachers tend to teach a very narrow band of information and students end up robbed of the proper education. Instead of teaching higher-order thinking, students are basically learning to memorize useless facts.
As a recent graduate from high school in Kentucky, it is safe to say that tests are always on the minds of teachers. In a county with two different high schools, there was always competition to do better than the other. The tests ranged from CATS testing which measured the progress of students and scored based on a performance scale, to the ACT which demands you to get higher scores in order to get placed in a good college. Along with being stressed about classwork, you were also stressed about scoring satisfactory on standardized tests.
Many experts are critical of the way schools test students. Diane Ravitch, former undersecretary of education to George H.W. Bush, feels as though standardized testing has narrowed curriculum by limiting history, PE, art, and foreign languages. Although she feels testing should be used for diagnostic purposes, she also thinks students are being forced to master test taking skills and not learning the underlying content.
It is estimated that 30-50% of students are held back at least once before reaching the ninth grade according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Why does this happen? It is because their scores on tests did not prove they were ready to move on the next grade level. This is commonly found in low-income and minority backgrounds. As a result, these kids are behind their peers and are placed in special or remedial education. Most high-poverty schools have to achieve equivalent scores as advantaged schools. This is unfair and, as evidence shows, the best teachers choose the high quality schools when their help is really needed in the lower class school systems.
When a teacher’s job is at stake, it may cause them to do things they would not normally do. Standardized tests have caused several problems in the past with teachers and their efforts to raise test scores. Teachers have been known to engage in unethical practices in order to keep their jobs or keep the school’s reputation intact. For example, in 2009 at a charter school in Springfield, Massachusetts, the principal told teachers to point out wrong answers to students on the state test. This resulted in the school losing its charter. In fact, schools have been caught cheating and tampering with test information nationwide. It has recently been reported that low-achieving students have been forced out of schools just to meet the test requirements for the district. Are tests really that important?
If a student’s test score increases, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their academic performance is improving. Most standardized tests are multiple choice. Multiple choice testing is not a reliable way of testing student achievement. Since they are formatted this way, they do not measure the student’s ability to write, do hands on tasks, critical think, or to do math. Standardized testing does not allow students to think to their highest ability, but rather teach them activities concerning short-term memory.
What effective strategies are other countries using in the classroom? How is it any better than what the United States is doing? The answer is simple. Other countries evaluate the progress of their students not by looking at test grades, but by how well they perform in essay writing, projects, and other activities. The United States is the only country that relies heavily on the outcome of test results. It has been said that students in other countries do better and score higher on standardized tests than students in the United States, with much less guidance and practice with these kinds of tests.
Are these tests even worth the trouble? Classroom surveys show that teachers do not even use the scores of tests. The scores aren’t helpful in showing the teacher what areas in the curriculum they need to cover. Instead of being used to show which students need some extra help, standardized tests are now used to judge the success or failure of students and schools.
To accurately test the progress of students, standardized testing needs to be replaced with alternate methods. Better methods already exist and include assessments on real learning tasks and observational checklists by teachers. These provide more useful information, are unbiased, and are more accountable. Students should be given the opportunity to learn a broader band of information, be graded equally among their peers, and be able to prove what they know without the presence of standardized tests. Standardized tests are damaging the vision schools have for successful students and need to be eliminated or altered in order to benefit everyone.
Click this link to hear Katie Couric from CBS news talk about standardized testing. http://youtu.be/gKFUoxGLiiQ
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“How Standardized Testing Damages Education.” The National Center for Fair & Open Testing | FairTest.Web. 30 Mar. 2011. http://www.fairtest.org/.
Huicochea, Alexis. “Education Expert Knocks Reform in Schools, Standardized Testing.” Arizona Daily Star.Web. 1 Apr. 2011. http://azstarnet.com/news/local/education/article_ed891771-3060-58cc-91cf-b6ce75bcff60.html.
“Quick Facts About Standardized Testing and No Child Left Behind.” Web. 1 Apr. 2011. http://karlfrankjr.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/quick-facts-about-standardized-testing-and-no-child-left-behind-nclb/.
Standardized Testing: Measuring What Matters Least. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. http://www.standardizedtesting.net/.