In the US, students take approximately 112 mandatory standardized tests before they finish high school. According to an article in the Washington Post, these tests consume about 25 hours each year (a total of 300 hours throughout 12 years of school). These tests will either get graded purely based on students’ knowledge of one year regarding a specific subject, or they will assess how much they’ve learned cumulatively.

Online, the definition for a standardized test varies, but the core essential definition is that to be considered standardized, “the exams need to not only contain the same information, but they need to also be graded in exactly the same manner.”

In order for that to be possible, most tests have resorted to the multiple choice grading system, which doesn’t leave much room for the interpretation of each answer (there is a right answer and the other options are wrong). Many people argue that this type of evaluation rather assesses memory since it doesn’t determine creativity if the answers are already fixed in. On the other hand, other people argue that because it doesn’t leave room for interpretation, it assesses an individual in an equal way compared to other individuals and creates a common ground through which others can excel and others will not.

AISB Secondary Principal Jon Cain agrees that standardized testing is an ambiguous topic and says that “it can be useful when used properly and very harmful when not used properly.”

In this article, all of the good aspects and the bad aspects will be presented in order for you to decide for yourself what you think about standardized tests and even come with a solution to our problem.

Good Aspects

  1. Standardized tests help identify the knowledge levels of each student: They establish an average performance in order to identify students who are way above the average, students that are doing fine, and students that need help. This is one of the reasons why a standardized test is different from other evaluation types, because the grading system is made in such a way that in order for parents to really understand their child’s grade, they can see how it compares to the average score provided by the standardized test company when a student receives their grade back. This is a feature provided by examinations such as SAT, the ISA, and the MAP.
  2. It helps teachers to structure their curriculums: It establishes a curriculum through which teachers all around the country can coordinate according to the standardized tests’ topics. This leads to less time wasted learning material that won’t be needed in order to excel in the exams. It also teaches students time management since teachers need to teach you an exact amount of topics which are divided in such a way that a student will have learned all the topics covered in the evaluation right in time for it. If students don’t learn something in the time dedicated to it, they will have to start managing their own time so that they can learn the topic before the test. This is also helpful if a student moves from a school to another that has the same standardized evaluations because, most likely, the other school will have the same type of curriculum structure.

“Standardized tests are good for schools to look at their curriculum and to see how we are doing compared to previous years,” says Cain.

Image Source: “Programmes” tab on IB website
  1. Answers are accurate and non-biased: Since all of the students have to answer the same questions and are then scored the same way, the grades reflect the student’s knowledge entirely and accurately – the grades are objective. Because all of the tests are graded in the same manner and system, there is no possible way in which a more liked student could get a higher grade.
  2. They motivate teachers to do their job: When teachers are trying to teach something and the class is not listening, the teachers may blame themselves when the students don’t get good grades because of the lack of attention in the class. But since standardized tests are public, the school’s reputation can be on the line because of bad results or even worse, the school might be held under tight observation.

Bad Aspects

  1. There is no feedback provided: Tests don’t specify possible actions that can be taken to improve scores, meaning that students are just taking exams, getting back their grades, and the rest is up to them to figure out what the next step towards improvement is. While this is true for the MAP, ISA and SAT’s, the IB exams are a different story. The reason for this is, although feedback isn’t returned either, the way in which the tests are graded is different because answers are worded, not multiple choice, and they are scored by examiners all over the world multiple times. This ensures that the grade for an answer is not awarded solely based on the opinion of one examiner, but allows room for individual, creative answers.
  2. Creativity is undervalued: Since computers grade these tests, creativity does not have anything to do with success. Even if a student writes down a very innovative answer backed up with evidence and structured correctly, it could be marked down for not being the answer that the computer was looking for. In an environment surrounded by so many people who are forced to do the exact same thing in silence, students have to sit down and answer questions that they will probably forget the answers to in a year. These types of working situations are very unlikely to be helpful in the future, in a work environment where they are allowed to stand up, walk around, talk to a fellow worker, and maybe come up with a new idea. This test does not prepare students for their future at all when creativity is one of the most important traits of an employee and where proper work is only done in proper working situations.
  1. It’s socially and economically neglecting: Students who have the opportunities to study at a good school that offers preparation or has a private paid tutor for exams have a big advantage over students who don’t have the same social or economic opportunities in a multiple-choice test. It is basic logic that if one doesn’t have the possibilities to has the knowledge required to answer a question, they will not be able to fulfill a question to their will. Of course, some students just don’t want to study for a test and they also don’t have the knowledge to answer a question, but others are motivated and ready to study, but they just don’t have the resources for it.
  2. It causes stress: Most students feel some type of stress in the time leading up to tests or at least at that moment staring them in the face. They know that their future can completely vary based on the grade they get on this assessment and they are scared that they didn’t study enough, or they’re scared that they studied so much that they won’t remember anything! After the student takes the test and receives their grades, one of two things can happen: One result is that the student gets an average or above average grade, they feel happy for a moment until they realize that they have to get the same or better results the next time they are assessed, and they become stressed all over again, which turns into cycle. The second result is that they get a bad grade, they feel pressured to work as hard as possible, and they start to push their boundaries. They might even resort to drugs such as Ritalin that are supposed to help people with attention deficits to concentrate, or they might overwork themselves, end up damaging their health in permanent ways, or they get discouraged and just give up completely. Either way, we end up back where we started, with collective stress before the test or immediate stress right before the test.

Cain states that, “It’s not very useful when parents and students are using an individual’s test results and saying ‘you’re not working hard enough.’”

  1. It can discourage personal interests: Based on the encouragement of the school, some students think that getting a good grade on their standardized test is what really matters. Instead of following or pursuing a passion, they start being too focused on the standardized test material and they stop having other aspirations or just don’t have time for hobbies because they are busy studying for their tests. Even if studying doesn’t stop them, if they are interested in an art or in a sport, a standardized test would not be able to showcase that knowledge. Something along the lines of an extended essay or extracurricular service work could better demonstrate skills with subjects such as the Arts and Physical Education.

Now that all of the information has been laid out, what do you think about standardized tests? Do you think that they are great and every school should support them, or do you think that they are horrible and no school should have them?

It’s now up to you to share your opinion and spread the word; because after all, after 300 hours of standardized tests throughout your whole school career, who would be a better judge?