64% of respondents to the 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of attitudes toward public schools reported that too much emphasis and pressure is placed on testing. Many good teaching practices are being abandoned for “teach-to-test” methods, in which the curriculum is narrowed in favor of lessons useful for a single test. A national study shows that since 2001, 44% of school districts have reduced the time spent on science, social studies and the arts by an average of 145 minutes per week in order to focus on reading and math, 75% of these districts cited standardized testing as being the main reason. A great deal of pressure is placed on districts to perform highly on these assessments, and these scores are often used to measure the quality of the schools and teachers that administer them. Nearly half of teachers surveyed by the National Education Association reported that schools place “moderate to extreme” pressure on students’ test scores to evaluate teacher performance, and just under half report considering leaving the profession due to standardized testing.
A teacher helps a student
And now, the obvious part. Exams place a heavy stress on students. An article on the ProCon Organization’s website states that “On Mar. 14, 2002, the Sacramento Bee reported that "test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it." This begs the question; is it really worth it, what’s the goal anyway? All this for a score, a number that is supposed to measure our intelligence. A number that we hold ourselves up to. But do standardized tests actually measure intelligence? As put by the American Institute for Learning and Development, “Standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience and human learning to a number or set of numbers.” What about the diversities of the vast range of students with different talents, strengths, weaknesses and backrounds? To the system, we are all standard, all pressed through the same mold and expected to perform the same way. Our unique abilities are of no matter to the machines that grade our bubbled-in answer sheets. The ProCon Organization reports that “A 2010 College of William & Mary study found Americans' scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been dropping since 1990, and researcher Kyung-Hee Kim lays part of the blame on the increase in standardized testing: "If we neglect creative students in school because of the structure and the testing movement... then they become underachievers."
An automated test-grading machine
Supporters of standardized tests argue that some stress is good for students, and teaches them to survive in the real world. While there is pressure in the real world, the test-taking environment is “artificial”, as put by the American Institute for Learning and Development. Exams are timed, communication and movement is prohibited, questions aren’t allowed, and there are no references or learning devices. This type of setting is quite different to “the real world”, and is highly unlikely to be experienced any time after the completion of education. The ProCon Organization states that “China displaced Finland at the top of the 2009 PISA rankings because, as explained by Jiang Xueqin, Deputy Principal of Peking University High School, "Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests. For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy." China is trying to depart from the "drill and kill" test prep that Chinese educators admit has produced only "competent mediocrity." Standardized testing teaches students to be good at taking tests, and not much else.
Students in China taking a test
A proposed alternative to standardized testing is “portfolio-based assessment”, in which teachers collect assignments and work that shows progress and achievements over the course of the curriculum. This type of evaluation focuses on a range of student work over a longer period of time as opposed to a few bubbled in test taken in a total of a few hours.
No one is the same. No one learns the same. No one takes or performs on a test the same way. The schooling and testing system feels cold and impersonal, churning out batches of students who are able to pass certain exams, a seemingly automated process- like a factory. What if learning was fun? Or what if students learned actual useful skills? What if students didn’t have to agonize over memorizing and repeating facts that are of no value to them? A standardized test is just that, standard. And standard is what the students of America and the rest of the world are not.