The quality of teaching and learning is of high importance in the United States. Research showed that the United States “ranked 14th on a composite measure of cognitive skills and educational attainment, behind […] Russia and Poland” (Benjamin & Pashler, 2015, p. 13). Such poor educational outcomes demonstrate that changes are needed in the educational system of the United States. One of the sectors that need to be changed is standardized testing. Standardized testing is used to measure students’ knowledge and teachers’ achievements in the classroom setting. Several decades ago, such tests were efficient and could be used to evaluate students’ knowledge successfully. However, standardized tests did not change with the global trend toward inclusive education, and they became inefficient and biased in relation to students with exceptional learning needs (ELN) (Gierczyk & Hornby, 2021, p. 1). Therefore, standardized tests are not suitable to determine the performance of ELN students because they can be biased, are not structured to assess what students know, and ignore individual students’ differences.
The history of standardized testing is old and interesting, and it began several centuries ago. The first cases of standardized testing can be found in the 3rd century BCE in China (Himelfarb, 2019, p. 151). At those times, Chinese aristocrats “were examined for their proficiency in music, archery, horsemanship, calligraphy, arithmetic, and ceremonial knowledge” (Himelfarb, 2019, p. 151). During World War I, testing was developed for army and military production, and later in the 20th century, the United States implemented tests for college admission (Himelfarb, 2019, p. 152). Nowadays, standardized testing is an integral part of American culture. The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Testing) are the main standardized tests used in the United States (Kaukab & Mehrunnisa, 2016, p. 127). These tests were developed in 1926 and 1959, respectively, and since those times, few changes have been made to adjust them to the current trends in education (Kaukab & Mehrunnisa, 2016, p. 127). Although a great part of standardized tests remains relevant today, this system of students evaluation has many limitations and drawbacks and needs to be replaced with a more credible and effective one.
To understand the effects of standardized tests on students with ELN, one should analyze such students’ characteristics and academic needs. According to Hallahan et al. (2020), exceptional students are students with cognitive and/or behavioral disabilities, including “specific learning disability (SLD), intellectual disability (ID), emotional disturbance (ED), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD),” as well as those with physical and/or sensory disabilities (p. 1). Twice-exceptional students are students with disabilities and special gifts and talents (Gierczyk & Hornby, 2021, p. 2). Although such students are placed in inclusive classrooms and are treated equally with other students, a special approach is needed to address their academic needs and develop their skills and abilities in traditional classrooms.
Standardized testing is not suitable for measuring and evaluate students’ performance because it can be biased and discriminatory. For example, research showed that standardized tests contain gender bias when used to select or assign students to schools or colleges (Saygin, 2019, p. 2). The main reason for such a statement is that the gender gap in SAT takers in the United States “has averaged 45 points each year” (Saygin, 2019, p. 2). Boys and girls perceive testing differently, and girls usually feel more anxious before a test than boys (Saygin, 2019, p. 3). At the same time, females usually perform better during their freshman year than males with the same SAT scores. Such a difference in performance under pressure and in a classroom demonstrates that standardized tests are biased and should not be used as a primary determinant of students’ performance.
Moreover, standardized testing discriminates against students with exceptional learning needs. Thus, students with intellectual disabilities are often perceived differently, and the examiners’ biased attitudes may negatively affect students’ performance during the exam. One of the testing biases related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptomology is a “lack of social reciprocity” (Thompson et al., 2018, p. 445). Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) are often considered “untestable” due to the lack of understanding of their condition (Thompson et al., 2018, p. 445). Standardized testing does not take into account the “social and emotional delays, oppositional temperament, or mood dysregulation” of such students, so the results of tests are usually invalid for further analysis (Thompson et al., 2018, p. 445). Similarly, students with disabilities who are exceptionally gifted in one or two subjects may have difficulties with other subjects, and the results of their tests will be biased too. One can see that standardized tests should not be used to determine ELN students’ skills and knowledge because they can be biased and discriminatory.
In addition, standardized tests are not structured to assess what students know. They only demonstrate what students learned during their school year but do not show their performance and knowledge level. Most standardized tests are made so that students are not allowed to ask the examiner clarifying questions when they do not understand something, and they must complete their assignment sheets independently (Cunningham, 2019, p. 116). As a result, students with exceptional learning needs, as well as students of color who live in marginalized communities, underperform during the test because of a lack of understanding, not a lack of knowledge. Besides, students’ family background is also ignored in such tests, so the results of a student from a low-income family and a student from a wealthy family will differ significantly. Language barriers may also have a negative impact on test scores, especially if an ELN student’s native language is not English. Finally, standardized tests “have little to do with content and more to do with the test-taking procedure” (Cunningham, 2019, p. 116). Thus, it is not a suitable method to measure students’ knowledge and skills.
One more reason why standardized testing should not be a primary source of students’ knowledge evaluation is that they ignore individual students’ differences. For example, students with ELN and other students have to complete the same assignments in almost the same conditions, which is unfair and does not evaluate students’ knowledge objectively. Morgan (2016) argues that students living in poverty often underperform due to various conditions, such as lack of health care and food, family violence, and absenteeism (p. 68). However, low test scores do not necessarily mean that such students will not succeed in the future. Hernandez (2019) suggests applying standardized testing to basketball players. If, for example, “any basketball player above six feet would be considered as someone with a potential to be athletically successful,” and those who were below six feet would be unsuccessful, short people would have no chance to enter the basketball sphere (Hernandez, 2019, p. 14). However, measuring the player’s height to evaluate their success is not right, and the same can be said about standardized tests. Therefore, all these factors should be considered while assigning different students to tests and measuring their knowledge.
Although most students and teachers find standardized tests ineffective and stressful, there are those who believe that standardized tests benefit learning and positively affect students’ educational outcomes. For example, Benjamin and Pashler (2015) argue that tests improve memory and increase student’s ability to retrieve learned information later (p. 15). They also claim that tests reduce forgetting and confusion and increase inference (Benjamin & Pashler, 2015). Moreover, standardized tests show the areas for improvement and assess problems, thus allowing students and teachers to change their approach to education and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses (Effects of Standardized Testing, 2020). Despite these benefits, standardized testing has many disadvantages and should not be applied to students with ELN.
Teachers’ opinions about standardized testing are also important because they help understand the advantages and disadvantages of such tests. One special educator reported that he feels stressed and believes that such tests are too general and cannot assess the knowledge of students with ELN objectively (P. Smith, personal communication, June 28, 2021). The other special educator claims that standardized tests provide equal opportunities to all and are reliable and objective (J. Robins, personal communication, June 27, 2021). She says that students with ELN require more time to conduct such tests, and the role of a teacher is to explain the procedure and assist with tasks when students cannot understand them (J. Robins, personal communication, June 21, 2021). Research showed that many teachers are not against standardized tests, but they believe that such tests should be modified to be more objective and effective (Kinay & Ardiç, 2017, p. 2289). Still, teachers’ beliefs diverge, and further research is needed to assess their attitudes toward standardized tests.
Having analyzed different opinions about standardized testing, one can conclude that such tests are too general and cannot assess students’ knowledge properly. Special educators believe that students with ELN require more time and effort to complete tests. Since standardized tests are structured so that students are not allowed to ask for assistance, they are not suitable to determine their performance levels. Moreover, such tests are outdated, biased, and discriminatory, and they do not consider students’ individual differences, which means that they are ineffective.
The situation will be able to change if teachers prepare exceptional learners for such tests better. For example, they can use detailed tutorials to familiarize students with terminology and test format, create a less stressful environment for them, and consider grades students earned during the year. Although these recommendations may improve the situation with exceptional learners’ outcomes, standardized tests should not be considered the only evaluation source. On the governmental level, standardized tests should be reviewed and changed according to different ELN students’ needs and skills. Even if such students are placed in a safe and calm environment, they will feel stress during the test, and their scores will suffer. Finally, ELN students’ scores and the scores of other students should not be equated. Instead, a new system of knowledge evaluation should be created to measure the skills and knowledge of special students in the nearest future.
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Thompson, T., Coleman, J. M., Riley, K., Snider, L. A., Howard, L. J., Sansone, S. M., & Hessl, D. (2018). Standardized assessment accommodations for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Contemporary School Psychology, 22(4), 443-457. Web.