Standardized testing is a common method for assessing the performance of students and by extension, the performance of teachers and educational institutions using a testing instrument with standardized questions, as well as uniformed administration conditions, scoring procedures, and interpretation. Essentially, any test that is given in the same manner to all test participants, and scored and interpreted in the same manner for everyone is a standardized test.
Although standardized testing has been widely used in education, particularly in different education systems in different countries, the continued patronage for such assessment methodology has been criticized due to its limitations and alleged ineffectiveness.
Pros: The benefits and advantages of standardized testing
1. Instrumental in Developing Education Policies
One of the advantages of standardized testing centers on the fact that it has been very useful in the development and implementation of education policies and thereby, in regulating the education system within a particular jurisdiction. Standardized tests demonstrate the scope and limitation of a standardized curriculum, thus defining the scope of the roles and responsibilities of teachers and educational institutions.
In the book “Kill The Messenger: The War On Standardized Testing,” education researcher Richard Philips mentioned that standards lead to the design and deployment of a common curriculum. He reminded that a common curriculum is based on consensus, particularly on the decision of the greater public. Without standardized testing, teachers and institutions will have a high degree of freedom when it comes to developing and implementing lesson plans.
2. Produces Empirical and Objective Results
The fact that standardized tests produce quantitative results that can be empirically documented means that the numerical scores have a comparative degree of validity and reliability, as well as results that are generalizable and replicable. Note that a study by N. R. Kuncel and S. A. Hezlett demonstrated that standardized admission tests are valid predictors of several aspects of student success across academic and applied fields.
It is also important to highlight the fact that standardized tests are developed by doctorate professionals with specializations in tests and measurements. Phelps noted that not all teachers have a relevant level of competencies in testing and measurement. Hence, the individualized tests they produce are not guaranteed to produce results that accurately represent the performance of students.
3. Encourages Accountability of Learners and Educators
Another advantage of standardized testing is that it promotes accountability among teachers, institutions, and students, as well as parents and policymakers. For teachers and institutions, administering standardized tests allow them to recognize how their students are performing compared to students from other schools or jurisdictions, hence enabling them further to adjust their teaching methodology to accommodate learning needs.
Because results of standardized tests are quantitative and empirical, students are able to track their performance and compare their progress relative to their peers. In the same manner, these results provide parents or legal guardians with information about the performance of their children and not to mention, the competencies of their teachers.
4. Suitable in Benchmarking and Determining Best Practices
Related to its role in supporting the development and implementation of education policies, as well as in encouraging accountability among learners and educators, is the function of standardized testing in evaluating the performance of students, educators, and institutions through comparison with standards defined by benchmarks and industry practices.
Take note that educational institutions and relevant bodies often gauge the performance of their curriculum by comparing test scores from across the nation or the world. In the international setting, several international benchmark tests have been administered to schools to determine their alignment with global standards or practices. Such include the “Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study” or TIMMS and the “Progress In International Reading Literacy Study” or PIRLS.
5. Useful in Recognizing Cases of Academic Dishonesty
Standardized testing seems to support academic dishonesty because of the way it systematizes or mechanizes the entire assessment procedure. Take note that instances of test leakages have been extensively documented and publicized. Polls have also revealed that an overwhelming number of students have cheated at least once on their exams. Some teachers have also rigged test results to promote their interests. Critics have raised these points whenever they argue against the standardization of performance assessment in education.
However, Philips argued that because cheating is easier with standardized testing, it is also easy to detect and thus, easy to prevent through penalization. An analysis of test results and their comparison with other facets of academic performance can reveal telltale patterns. This can be helpful in pinning down cheaters, providing appropriate sanctions, and sending a message across the academic community.
Cons: The limitations and disadvantages of standardized testing
1. Disregards Different Learning Styles and Challenges
Every student learns differently. In the book “Now You See It,” American scholar and university professor Cathy N. Davidson argued that the use of standardized testing demonstrates a one-size-fits-all approach to learning in which students are placed in an “assembly line” model, thus disregarding different learning challenges and discouraging critical and creative thinking.
Several studies have explored the limitations and negative impacts of standardized testing in learning. For example, D. I Rubin and C. J. Kazanjan revealed in their review that the use of standardized testing and strict curriculum do not necessarily increase student performance, thus suggesting a misalignment with the primary purpose of imparting learning and promoting development. Another review study by H. Morgan also mentioned that the results of standardized tests do not account for the real capabilities of students. Furthermore, these tests do not adequately assess skills in reasoning, creativity, research, and interpersonal communication.
2. Limits the Methodologies and Creativity in Teachings
Similar to the argument that standardized testing disregards differences in learning styles, there is also an argument that it limits teachers and instructions, especially in delivering instructions and employing other teaching methodologies. The review of Rubin and Kazanjan mentioned that classroom interactions or student-teacher relationships center primarily on practicing for a standardized test, dropping other challenging topics or activities from the curriculum.
Morgan also noted in his review that standardization also promotes an approach that harms teachers because of the mechanical and restrictive style of teaching such requires them to employ. Teachers do not have the power to change the curriculum or use other approaches in motivating students. They end up using methods and materials which they did not take any part in creating. In other words, standardization demonstrates the minimal control of teachers over the teaching and learning environment.
3. Ineffective in Gauging Real Academic Performance
Three factors influence the performance of students or more appropriately, their test scores according to education and information studies professor W. James Popham. These factors are: what the students learn in school, what they learn outside of the school, and their innate intelligence or competencies. Popham pointed out that teachers and schools only have control over one of these three factors.
Some teachers have also raised an argument against the extensive use and promotion of standardized testing. They contend that standardized tests only measure the current knowledge of students while failing to account for academic progress for an entire year, as well as for other facets of learning. Furthermore, they also noted that the immediate supervisors of learners are the best creators and facilitators of tests because they have the first-hand awareness of the necessities and abilities of their students.
4. Promotes Unhealthy Competition Among Educators
One of the primary purposes of employing standardized testing within a jurisdiction is to regulate and evaluate the performance of students and thereby, the performance of teachers and institutions. However, as mentioned by Morgan, this system rewards educators based on the score of their students, thus compelling them to disregard collaboration with other educators or withhold skills and knowledge in teaching to maintain a competitive advantage.
Morgan explains that collaboration enhances the teaching and learning environment, thus benefitting the students. In a system that uses standardized testing to gauge the performance of educators, students are at the losing end as teachers and their schools use methods to outperform each other. Hence, students become dependent only on their immediate environment, particularly on the expertise of a limited number of teachers.
5. Marginalization of Minorities and Learners with Special Needs
Another disadvantage of standardized testing centers on its negative impacts on certain subgroups of the population. For example, the separate review studies of Rubin and Kazanjan, and Morgan mentioned that students of color, as well as those who come from impoverished families and communities often receive instructions that are unaligned with their cultural, social, and economic predispositions. Standardized tests disregard the challenges that can affect the academic performance of these subgroups. These challenges include lack of access to health care, financial and food insecurity, exposure to community violence, and exposure to domestic problems, among others.
The review stud of Morgan also mentioned that standardized testing encourages bias in education. For example, some teachers and schools are predisposed to admitting as many wealthy students as possible because they represent a subgroup that collectively scores well in standardized tests. In addition, the same teachers and schools tend to avoid students with special needs or those English-language learners because they tend to perform less in standardized tests. Having a large pool of students who are predisposed to perform well would advanced the self-serving interest of these teachers and schools.
6. Reinforcement of the Capitalist Agenda for Education
The purpose of modern education is to equip students with competencies needed to become productive members of the society. However, critics of the standardization and strict regulation of education, as exemplified by the promotion of common curriculum and standardized testing, have argued that the current education system exhibits an attempt to advance a capitalist agenda. Remember that Davidson described the modern education system as an assembly line of students. Simply put, schools are factories and teachers are workers who work as quickly as possible based on strict production guidelines to produce students that would be used as commodities in the labor market.
In the review study of Rubin and Kazanjan, it was mentioned that there are pedagogy theorists who believe that the capitalist agenda of education is to reinforce and reproduce class inequality by to producing and maintaining a tiered workforce. Education systems that follow standardization consider students as mere commodities. Instead of producing lifelong learners, these systems have the sole purpose of producing test-takers who eventually become non-questioning workers that fit perfectly into the capitalist workforce.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Davidson, C. N. 2001. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking Press. ISBN: 978-0-67-00-2282-3
- Kuncel, N. R. and Hezlett, S. A. 2007. “Standardized Tests Predicts Graduate Students’ Success.” Science. 315(5815): 1080-1081. DOI: 10.1126/science.1136618
- Morgan, H. 2016. Relying on High-Stakes Standardized Tests to Evaluate Schools and Teachers: A Bad Idea. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas. 25(1), 97-106. DOI: 10.1080/00098655.2016.1156628
- Phelps, R. 2003. Kill The Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing. New York: Routledge. ISBN: 978-1-41-28-0512-4
- Popham, W. J. 1999. “Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality.” Education Leadership. 56(6): 8-15
- Rubin, D. I. and Kazanjian, C. J. 2011. Just Another Brick in the Wall: Standardization and the Devaluing of Education. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction. 5(2), 94-108. DOI: 10.3776/joci.2011.v5n2p94-108