A standardized test is a testing format which requires all test takers to either answer the same questions or to answer from questions that are selected from the same bank of questions, in the same way. Those answers must then be scored consistently, in a standard manner, to make it possible to compare the results of individual tests as a performance standard.
Standardized testing can be applied to virtually any type of test or assessment. The term is often reserved for large-scale tests that are administered to students in the public-school districts throughout the United States. These tests are often required to be taken in specific grade levels, such as 3rd grade and 8th grade, to evaluate the progress of all students.
Tests like these have been administered in the U.S. for more than a century. Virtually every American who has attended a public or private school has taken at least one standardized test at some point during their lifetime.
Here are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing that we have discovered thus far.
List of the Advantages of Standardized Testing
1. It is a way to teach learning prioritization.
Most standardized tests are created to evaluate the information individual students have retained in core competency areas of learning. Although many students tend to find classes like art, music, and physical education to be the most enjoyable at school, there is also a need for reading, writing, and arithmetic. These tests help students understand that some subjects are just as critical to being successful in life as the subjects that they enjoy the most. In return, students get a chance to show how much they have learned.
2. It is a way to bring out the best in teachers.
Far too many school districts have based raises and promotions for teachers based on how their students perform on standardized tests. That has led to the bad habit of teachers simply teaching to the materials that are expected to be covered by the test. The best teachers do not focus on repetition. They focus on making the learning process fun. By switching from lecture-based repetition to real skill usage, information retention rates for students can rise by more than 85%.
3. It creates a positive school environment for students.
There is no doubt that test-taking days for students are stressful. The results that a standardized test provides will also create a school environment that is filled with positive energy. Even if a student scores in a lower percentile on the test compared to their peers, the fact that they could take the test in the first place creates a self-esteem boost. Students who do their best on a test, regardless of score, often have more confidence as well. The test shows students that their hard work, learning new core concepts, has paid off.
4. It can identify learning deficiencies or disabilities that students hide.
There are certain learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, which can be easy for teachers to spot. There are also certain subject-based deficiencies or hidden disabilities that affect student learning that teachers cannot easily identify. The standardized test can find these issues, however, to show teachers where learning gaps may be for certain students. In return, students can then be placed into individualized programs to correct the deficiency or create accommodations for the disability to facilitate better overall learning.
5. It creates an environment of equality.
Students might come from a variety of socioeconomic circumstances within the same school district. When they are all taking the same standardized test, the students are placed on an equal footing. Every student is given the same opportunity to show off what they have learned over the past school year. Instead of separating students into certain groups, each student is fully evaluated on their own merits by this type of test.
6. It is a testing process that can be administered quickly.
Standardized tests are usually completed within a required grade over a period of 5 learning days. Advanced forms of standardized testing, such as the ACT, are administered on a single day. That means a comprehensive look at how a student learns, and how much information they have retained, becomes available to teachers and parents from a minimal time investment.
7. It is an affordable assessment tool.
According to information published by The Huffington Post, the total cost of standardized testing in the United States public school districts is about $1.7 billion. That figure was determined by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. Although that figure seems like a lot of money, it represents just 1% of the overall education budget for educational systems in the United States each year.
8. It does offer some alternatives for certain students.
Standardized testing does offer an alternate version of a test to accommodate some students. That allows students, even if they have a disability, to have a chance at experiencing the equality that comes from everyone taking the same test.
List of the Disadvantages of Standardized Testing
1. It promises big results that do not usually happen.
Standardized testing took a higher priority in U.S. education circles in 2002, when the “No Child Left Behind” educational emphasis was enacted. In just 7 years, the United States dropped 13 spots in the world education rankings. In 2002, the U.S. mathematics was ranked 18th in the world. In 2009, the U.S. was ranked 31st. All core subjects have followed the same pattern of reduced effectiveness as standardized testing took on a more prominent role in U.S. educational circles.
2. It can be very expensive for some states.
Standardized testing is an assessment tool that is reasonably affordable for most geographic locations. New York State, for example, spends just $7 per student on standardized tests. Oregon spends $13 per student, while Georgia spends $14 per student. For some states, however, the tests can be quite costly. Hawaii spends more than $100 per student for standardized testing. It is $114 per student in the District of Columbia. Delaware spends $73 per student, while Massachusetts spends $64 per student.
3. It is not always a true reflection of a student’s knowledge.
Some students are incredible learners. When it comes time to take a test, however, these hardworking students are under-represented by the results generated by the standardized tests. There are several reasons for this. Some students could be dealing with working memory issues. Others may have a slower processing speed when dealing with specific types of information. Because accommodations are rare for a standardized test, some very bright students may be placed into remedial learning programs because they have poor test-taking skills.
4. It assumes all students come from a similar learning background.
Standardized testing works on one core principle: that all students have received the same quality of core educational principles throughout their life. Although it does create a system of equality that stretches across all socioeconomic spectrums, it still creates a system of discrimination as well. Students who may struggle to understand English, have undiagnosed hearing or eyesight concerns, or be unfamiliar with computer technologies may all have their scores be lower than they should be.
5. It is a test that evaluates only one component of the learning process.
Core competencies are important to learn. Measuring them through standardized testing allows teachers, parents, and administrators to understand where each child is at on their own learning path. These tests also struggle to account for other types of learning that make be a strength for certain children. Some children may be profoundly talented in art or music. Others may have a high emotional IQ. Students may be very resourceful or possess desirable vocational traits. Standardized testing only looks at one are of learning competency instead of all of them.
6. It may not be a reflection of a student’s true potential.
One of the primary reasons the U.S. has experienced a drop in global education rankings is likely due to the fact that the tests, not subject learning, have become a priority for school districts. Teachers earn raises because of test scores. School districts received state and federal grants from test scores. In a way, standardized testing as monetized the educational systems of the world at the expense of what students learn. Instead of teaching useful information, teachers teach to the test instead. It is an evaluation not of quality. It is a judgment on information quantity.
7. It is a system that can be gamed.
Some students can instinctively sense patterns within the answers of standardized tests. Although this issue only applies to multiple-choice answer tests, it can still be a problem. The Brookings Institution found that 4 out of every 5 students who experience testing score improvements have experienced little-to-no change with how they actually learn. Those who create tests put in unintended patterns that some students are able to identify. If these patterns are not removed, then high test scores can be achieved with a minimal effort to learn the materials being covered by the test.
8. It creates a narrower curriculum that may limit student learning.
Because so much funding is tied into the results from standardized testing, school districts across the United States have shifted their class schedules to accommodate teaching in testing areas. From 2002-2009, as part of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative, the amount of time spent on science, social studies, music, and art dropped by more than 40%. The average student saw over 2 hours of their week shift from these subjects to reading and mathematics. When we create a narrow curriculum for our students, we lessen their chances for success. Some students are natural readers. Others are natural artists. Our school districts should accommodate both types of learning.
9. It changes school schedules.
Many school districts in the U.S. altered their calendars to accommodate the need for better test taking. Some districts initiated voluntary learning sessions on weekends, holidays, and scheduled school vacation days to encourage better test-taking by students. That reduces the amount of time students have for extra-curricular activities, including some that may be school related.
10. It encourages cheating.
According to The Washington Post, more than a dozen different school districts throughout the country have been caught trying to cheat on test scores. Scandals that have involved several teachers and administrators, notably in Atlanta, GA, have tarnished the learning process for students. It has even caused good teachers to leave their profession because they want to teach a subject instead of teaching a test.
These advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing show us that there is a need to compare student performance. We can find learning gaps, identify specific needs, and create a healthier learning environment for students with these tests. If we are not careful, however, we can also destroy all the self-worth a student achieves during the year through one poor test result.
For that reason, standardized testing should offer more accommodations to students. Each of us has a method of learning that is a little different than anyone else. By working to accommodate those differences, a more accurate evaluation of what students know can be achieved.