Effectiveness of standardized testing

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Grace Zalewski

Seniors in English teacher Robert Keast’s class are working hard on their assessment for the day. The seniors are focused while doing their worksheet in order to get a good grade on their handout.

Using standardized testing to measure the academic level of a student has been essential since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed in 2002. For years, standardized testing has started a debate on whether this type of testing is beneficial to determine a student’s educational achievements.
According to the online program website School of Education in an article “Effects of Standardized Testing on Students & Teachers: Key Benefits & Challenges”, the meaning of standardized testing is a way to view a student or teacher’s success by taking an assessment asking similar questions, and grading the tests in a conventional system.
With standardized testing being a part of a student’s education, there are multiple factors that challenge students to have a fair and effective chance of being able to do well on these types of tests.

Personal and Emotional Factors
The academic system often uses high-standardized testing as a way to determine if a student’s education is able to advance to the next level. This can include being able to graduate, or getting into a higher-ranked college. Since these types of tests have a high value of importance, many students end up dealing with stress and anxiety while preparing for and when taking standardized testing.
According to Brain Connection in an article “Tests + Stress = Problems For Students”, many “exam stress” factors include disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, worry, irregular eating habits, increased infections, and inability to concentrate.
“The emphasis on external goals, Paris suggests [Scott Paris, a professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan], has created an unhealthy classroom scenario in which ‘standardized tests provoke considerable anxiety among students that seems to increase with their age and experience,” Brain Connection said.
These types of stress patterns come from three regions of the brain that correlate with senses of fear. The first location is called the Prefrontal Cortex, which is labeled as an emotional part of the brain where potential danger is first assessed. The second location is called Amygdala, which is an area in the brain that initiates anxiety. The last location is called the Hypothalamus where the prefrontal cortex and amygdala send signals to this part of the brain that responds to types of threats.
Due to standardized testing, students tend to believe that passing grades are more important than learning the criteria and that high scores on tests are the main goal to succeed in school. As stated by Brain Connection, attempting to obtain high test scores has made students feel more anxious and competitive with one another. Anxiety and competition are the main influencing factors that determine whether a student does well on a standardized test, even if the students know the criteria.
“Furthermore, students do not necessarily become ‘test wise’ [a test taker who has developed skills and strategies that facilitate an increased test score] as is commonly believed. Instead, older students report not checking their answers, filling in bubbles mindlessly, carelessly skimming passages for answers, and occasionally cheating,” Brain Connection said.
Consequences can occur for students who consistently receive low test scores on standardized tests, even when stress plays a significant role in these types of assessments. According to Brain connection, these students are left with lower options for their future or could end up devaluing these tests. Even if the high test-takers do well on standardized testing, these students are left competing with one another rather than wanting to understand and learn the criteria.
“But the price that is paid in the narrowing of the curriculum, the restricted definition of educational success, and the inculcation of test-wiseness and test-taking strategies may mortgage the future of children’s appreciation of school and their life-long learning habits,” Paris said in an interview from Brain Connection.

Less meaningful measure of progress
Standardized tests include identical if not similar questions of normal math and reading assessments that are graded in a standard way. According to the School of Education, by emphasizing reading and mathematics, there is no room for other areas in learning such as history or art. Although reading and math are practiced every year in a school setting, most students do not only succeed in these two types of areas.
Since there are limited areas of learning, standardized testing does not show the full aspect of what students succeed in. Stated by ProCon.org in an article “Do Standardized Tests Improve Education in America?” earning good grades shows behaviors of participating in class, showing up regularly, turning in assignments, and taking quizzes. Students who get passing grades are not always good test-takers compared to students who are but do not use their motivation to obtain good grades.
“In contrast, standardized tests measure only a small set of the skills that students need to succeed in college, and students can prepare for these tests in narrow ways that may not translate into better preparation to succeed in college,” Elaine M. Allensworth, Lewis-Sebring Director of the University of Chicago Consortium said in an interview with ProCon.org.
Furthermore, standardized testing only uses certain format questions that may not be beneficial to every student. The School of Education points out that these types of tests fail to demonstrate academic proficiency; an example of this could be that a student might not succeed well in grammar, but could excel in writing, which is not a factor in regular standardized testing.
Overall, these common tests do not factor in certain areas of learning, which limits a students ability to show their level of academics. Standardized testing also fails to help students who may be poor test takers and can not show off their different ways of being a persistent student. With these types of tests restricting students to succeed and only measuring certain education criteria, most students have a difficult time being proficient in standardized testing.

Affecting teachers
Although students are highly affected by standardized testing, teachers are also impacted by making sure their students are well prepared for these types of tests. According to Sits at Penn State in an article “Effects of Standardized Testing on Educators”, studies found that the pressure put upon teachers to improve their testing results in neglecting important criteria that are not included on the test.
“This means that students no longer learn through long term projects, reading physical chapter books, solving higher order problems, computer programs, etc. Teachers are teaching students by giving worksheets with questions formatted identically to the standardized tests,” Sites at Penn State said.
Due to the high stakes of testing, many schools base a student’s performance for standardized testing on the teacher, which can affect their job salaries and job stability. This results in teachers needing to focus on these types of tests more often instead of being able to go in depth for their students’ education criteria.
“Educators are torn between what will benefit the student as a whole and what will be most likely to aid in the successful completion of the standardized test,” Sites at Penn State said.
Standardized test scores can be determined by different factors such as students’ ability to take high-performance tests, or whether students feel stressed and anxious during test time. Still, these other elements that determine how well a student does on a standard test are only determined by the fate of the educator, stated by Sites at Penn State.
In general, standardized testing changes how teachers are able to present their academic criteria for their students. This results in a lack of control for the teachers since they are required to have their students perform well on standardized tests, without determining other factors that could affect a student’s test score.

The Future of Standardized Testing
Since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed in 2002, America has been preoccupied with standardized testing for over twenty years. According to The Washington Post in an article “It looks like the beginning of the end of America’s obsession with student standardized tests”, many of these types of tests are coming to an end.
Due to Covid-19, many state leaders decided it was not fair to give students these tests after their education had been affected by the pandemic.
“Millions of students were at home, learning remotely either on paper or on screens. And state leaders realized it wasn’t plausible or fair to give students the tests,” The Washington Post said.
From the pandemic, states and school districts are dealing with potential budget deficits. As stated by The Washington Post, many of the testing programs are very expensive and states could decide that these standardized tests are not worth it and that teachers do not need these types of tests to know where students are at in learning.
Overall, standardized testing has been a mandatory way of determining a student’s academic level for the past two decades. From Covid-19, these tests have been a strong debate on whether they are effective enough to determine a student’s achievement at school. Many K-12 schools will continue to use these exams as well as colleges that still require test scores for their admissions. However, there will be a change in these standardized testing as this debate continues.
“But the combination of the pandemic, the uprising, and disillusionment with the testing industry — which has been building among teachers, parents, and students for years — points to a new chapter for public education, or, at least, the beginning of the end of our obsession with high-stakes standardized tests,” The Washington Post said.