Standardized testing: The downfall of the system

Assessments waste time, don’t reflect student achievement


Megaphone Staff

We all remember the dreaded days of middle school when we would have to come to class and sit for two to three hours each day during the week and take a standardized test. If you live in Indiana, you are most likely familiar with the test named ISTEP, which stands for Indiana Statewide Testing for Progress. This is the test that I am talking about. It seemed the only thing remotely exciting about that week was going to the local grocery store or gas station to buy some mints to help you get through all those irritating tests. 

When you get to high school, you are hoping to never again encounter that stressful test, but you are not only required to take the test again, but you have to take even more tests, which by now most seniors are very familiar with, to get into college. These tests include both the SAT and ACT.

It is true that students dislike taking the test because why would any student enjoy spending three hours filling in bubbles on a sheet and writing an essay about an obscure passage he has never seen in his life. However, taking the test is not just frustrating because it is not fun; rather, it is truly a flaw in our educational system.

To begin, the tests we are required to take according to the government do not accurately portray the full picture of a student. Being able to answer questions on the test shows that you have excelled in learning material, but can not show definitively how intelligent someone is. writes, “Cultural factors, unfamiliarity with testing methods, test anxiety, and illness can wreak havoc with how well a student performs.” One test on a random school day in the midst of a teenager’s young and fast-paced life should not dictate whether they are able to move to the next grade level or get into a certain college. There are so many other factors to assess when looking at a student’s academic ability that one or a few tests can not thoroughly analyze. A student may not be familiar with a topic due to their background, for example, that may influence how they answer on a nationwide test. Their answer does not reflect their intelligence, but rather what they have been exposed to growing up.

Another flaw with standardized testing is that teachers have to teach based on the content of the test in an effort to make sure the student receives a higher score on that test. This may seem like a positive strategy, however as Thomas Armstrong from the American Institute for Learning and Human Development writes, “If there is something that is interesting, compelling, useful, or otherwise favorable to the development of a student’s understanding of the world, but it is not going to be on the standardized test, then there really isn’t any incentive to cover this material.” Teachers are left to only teach what is on the test because higher scores reflect better on both the teacher and the school. Interesting current events that may bode really well with the current unit discussed in class may be completely forgotten in an effort to fit in every other test topic before the day of the actual test.

Standardized tests also poorly reflect what it is like to live in the real world. As Armstrong writes, “(The tests are) timed, you can’t talk to a fellow student, you can’t ask questions, you can’t use references or learning devices, you can’t get up and move around.” If we are preparing kids for the real world, shouldn’t we treat the classroom environment similarly. Not only does the test fail on a real world scale, but it also creates unwanted stress for usually already stressed out individuals. Armstrong notes, that “Some kids do well with a certain level of stress. Other students fold.” If we base a student’s intellectual ability purely on his test-taking abilities, we will surely never truly come to know the person behind the pencil.

Although standardized testing is prominent in our society, it needs to be reshaped into a more efficient form to really allow an accurate understanding of students.