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Editorial: Standardized tests are beneficial

Megaphone Staff

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The mantra “teaching to the test” plagues the debate against standardized tests, and educators throughout the state are mentally preparing themselves for the complaints of students and parents as the spring ISTEP exams approach. However frustrated sophomores and some juniors may be as they answer endless questions while the remaining student body enjoys a delayed school start, standardized tests are necessary to benefit the students and our national education system.

Although the primary argument against tests such as ISTEP is their ineffectiveness, this is not the case. Upon analyzing education research spanning 100 years, scholar Richard P. Phelps found 93 percent of these studies drew a positive correlation between standardized tests and student achievement.

The ability to find even this positive relationship is another added benefit of standardized tests: They provide a simple, cheap and objective measurement of student proficiency.

The efficiency of standardized tests is indisputable: a typical exam can be take in about an hour and is graded instantaneously by a computer. The cost is also relatively low. A Stanford University researcher found standardized tests cost less than 0.1 percent of the K through 12 education spending budget, at about $5.81 per student annually. The U.S. Government Accountability Office determined a more liberal range of $15 to $33 per student annually. However, even this exaggerated estimate contributes to less than 1 percent of the total education budget. This is a small price to pay for an objective measurement of student achievement and progress throughout the United States.

The intent of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was to establish higher educational standards and set measurable checkpoints for students. It did not formulate a national standard or national exam, but instead allowed each state to set these objectives. To encourage participation, federal school funding is given only to schools which administer these tests.

At first, the act gained bipartisan support, but eventually a bipartisan Congress removed the national aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, and, again with bipartisan support, in 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act modified the previously set regulations. Provisions asking for periodic standardized testing remained.

Other similar systems in place around the world illustrate the benefits of standardized exams. China, for instance, is famously known for both its high student performance as well as the many tests students are required to take.

Many experts credit the tradition of standardized testing in the Chinese education system for its high achievement. Since Shanghai was first compared on the Programme for International Student Assessment, which ranks regional student performance, it has placed first in reading, math and science.

The simple explanation to this phenomenon has been discovered by critics of ISTEP, who chant the phrase “teaching to the test.” Though it has gained a negative connotation, many schools can benefit from having a set of standards their students are expected to reach. We are blessed to attend a school with a curriculum already beyond the minimum state mandates. However, other schools that would otherwise not accelerate their students to necessary checkpoints are now encouraged to teach important skills all students should master.

Standardized testing provides an outlet for students, parents and teachers to complain about a broken education system, yet it is anything but. These exams promote academic achievement and encourage schools to push their students, while it also tracks student progress and allows for help to be provided to students or school systems which struggle with the objective exams. A simple, effective exam is an easy opportunity to improve our national education.

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