The sphere of education has to continuously evolve to correspond with the knowledge necessary for the growing populations. However, many problems continue to persist, leading to negative experiences and long-term consequences for children, teachers, and whole schools. Standardized testing is among these issues – it is one of the most highly debated subjects in the discussion of student assessment. At present, most educational organizations use standardized testing to evaluate students’ achievement and their preparedness for college. In the same way, universities use tests to appraise the knowledge of math and language. However, many scholars find that standardized examination does not produce positive effects for both schools and students. This proposal reviews the problem of testing and presents several short- and long-term solutions for the sphere of academic learning.
First of all, it is vital to understand what benefits and drawbacks standardized testing has or is expected to possess. Standardized tests have been a part of the educational system for centuries, but the increase in their use in the United States began in the 20th century (Knoester and Au 2). Since the 1980s, the country has been testing its students of all ages on a national scale (Jenkins and Leung 88). This has brought the process and the idea of standardized testing into the discussion of its potential harms to students and schools.
For example, many scholars argue that standardized testing does not lead to an increase in equal treatment of students from different racial and class backgrounds. According to Knoester and Au, this type of evaluation is not devoid of bias because people create the tests, and questions are chosen through experimentation (5). To achieve this, test developers select students who perform well and look at the ways they understand and answer various prompts. As a result, the design process is heavily dependent on the research participants, who, historically, have been reported to be white (Au 48). This particular finding raises the concern of the test’s bias against nonwhite students and children who live in areas with low-income average, underperforming schools, and lacking resources. Moreover, as standardized testing affects students’ future, some researchers point out that such discrepancy in learning opportunities is enforced further. As Knoester and Au find, in the worst scenario, standardized tests’ bias can lead to schools’ re-segregation (10). Thus, one should not underestimate the underlying influences that make standardized testing unequal.
Furthermore, many regions measure the performance of teachers and schools based on their student’s test results. Organizations that fail to show consistently good scores are penalized and even shut down, and teachers may lose their jobs if they do not teach students how to pass tests. This level of pressure results in educators abandoning practices that are not related to standardized testing. Lessons that are not graded in this system, such as music, art, and physical education, are deemphasized, and math and language are given priority (Scogin et al. 40). Children and teenagers, therefore, come to school to learn a highly limited number of subjects that may not be related to their interests or aspirations. At the same time, the focus on a setlist of questions and answers shifts the attention from real knowledge to students’ ability to memorize what is needed to pass.
Finally, some argue that standardized testing removes the ability for students to explore and enjoy their rich heritage. Jenkins and Leung note that different regions often have unique linguistic and cultural elements that are not represented on a national test (89). Thus, students may have trouble understanding the purpose behind such testing, which lowers initiative and restricts their ability to learn new interesting information in a school environment. The concept of cultural exchange and language progression is also removed from this approach to evaluation. Tests draw a line between literate and illiterate students and decide their fate for future academic successes.
As can be seen, the main issues discussed in relation to standardized testing are the risk of bias, inequality, erasure of culture and identity, and the lack of students’ and teachers’ input. To address these concerns, the sphere of education can consider small immediate changes as well as substantial alterations to the system. Meier and Knoester offer seven solutions that can be implemented together or separately. One of them is student self-assessment – scholars support this strategy as a way to give students increased autonomy. Self-evaluations require students to reflect on their knowledge and state how they are prepared to, for instance, start a college course (Meier and Knoester 33). An individual can complete a checklist or use a rubric to see which skills are developed and which need more attention. This type of evaluation is believed to motivate students to take responsibility for their learning and allow them to focus on areas that are necessary for their academic and professional development.
During lessons, teachers can record their observations about their students, including details about their motivations, activity, performance, and behavior. This is a more individualized way of evaluating people’s skills and learning patterns than testing. Moreover, teachers and university committees can conduct interviews with students for subjects that matter the most for their respective education programs. Reading and math are at the center of evaluation, and they can be assessed during a discussion. In this way, students are less likely to cheat as they need to understand the core principles of the analyzed subject. Furthermore, in contrast to standardized testing, students gain a chance to explain their knowledge using their own way of thinking without the fear of misinterpretation. Tests with set answers are not beneficial to persons with different cognitive behaviors, thus creating barriers for whole groups of people.
Another element that can help during interviews is the existence of a portfolio – a collection of works, projects, and individual achievements that students collect during the academic year. These practices are used in some universities and schools; thus, their addition is not entirely new. Portfolios can motivate students to perform well and participate in exciting and creative projects, further deepening their understanding of a subject. They also imply that some areas of knowledge unaddressed in standardized tests can be flashed out.
The final changes offered by Meier and Knoester target school and teacher evaluations. The authors suggest that schools should be reviewed by independent experts instead of using test scores (Meier and Knoester 13). This approach provides an ability to look at strengths and weaknesses and look into the possible problems that affect students’ performance. Finally, meetings of the school board and teachers have to consider what learning is and which activities can be modified to bring better results.
The solutions discussed above are major, meaning that they are unlikely to be implemented quickly and broadly. The main weakness of these strategies is that they require significant time and resources for each student, while standardized testing is easy to distribute. However, they all deserve attention, and their combination can change the way people view education and learning. People from different backgrounds can express their unique talents and focus on areas of knowledge that bring them joy as well as development. Students with cognitive, speech, hearing and other disabilities can benefit from an individualized approach as well, without feeling that they are being singled out. All students may get inspired to learn if they see the amount of attention given to their journey.
A smaller initiative can be a stepping stone on the way to removing standardized tests as the primary measure of intelligence and preparedness. Kearns discusses a more individualized test system that, instead of having the same questions for all regions, creates different blocks of questions based on the culture and language of the area (136). As such, students can find questions and answers that reflect their culture and local history. Another strategy would be to make tests more specific according to the field of education or work that students wish to pursue. However, this solution is not the most appropriate, as students are still not given any opportunity to use their unique skills. Teachers are also not given any autonomy, and their performance depends on classes’ test scores.
Standardized testing remains one of the highly debated topics in the sphere of education. Although the tests’ initial idea was that of equality and unification, this type of assessment is inherently biased, which continues the trend of minority discrimination. Multiple changes can improve the system and elevate a more personal way of learning. Student self-evaluation, portfolios, interviews, observations, open discussions, and independent expert reviews should create a system where students’ unique skills are valued, and schools’ goals are centered around exploration, not test completion.
Au, Wayne. “Meritocracy 2.0: High-Stakes, Standardized Testing as a Racial Project of Neoliberal Multiculturalism.” Educational Policy, vol. 30, no. 1, 2016, pp. 39-62.
Jenkins, Jennifer, and Constant Leung. “From Mythical ‘Standard’ to Standard Reality: The Need for Alternatives to Standardized English Language Tests.” Language Teaching, vol. 52, no. 1, 2019, pp. 86-110.
Kearns, Laura-Lee. “The Construction of ‘Illiterate’ and ‘Literate’ Youth: The Effects of High-Stakes Standardized Literacy Testing.” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 2016, pp. 121-140.
Knoester, Matthew, and Wayne Au. “Standardized Testing and School Segregation: Like Tinder for Fire?” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 20, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-14.
Meier, Deborah, and Matthew Knoester. Beyond Testing: Seven Assessments of Students and Schools More Effective Than Standardized Tests. Teachers College Press, 2017.
Scogin, Stephen C., et al. “Learning by Experience in a Standardized Testing Culture: Investigation of a Middle School Experiential Learning Program.” Journal of Experiential Education, vol. 40, no. 1, 2017, pp. 39-57.