The Effects of Standardized Testing on Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Standardized testing is everywhere in education these days. It's important for teachers to understand how these tests work and particularly the effects of standardized tests on the students taking them!

What's the Big Deal About Testing?

Standardized testing is everywhere in education these days, and it's also all over the media. Some argue that testing is the only way to objectively measure students' progress as well as hold schools and teachers accountable for teaching all learners. Others argue that standardized testing is an inappropriately punitive way to measure educational outcomes, and that testing is inherently biased and will never tell the whole story about what happens in schools and classrooms.

No matter where you stand on testing, though, the reality is that, at least for now, it is part of the fabric of our students' lives. Because of this, it is important to think about how testing impacts our students. This includes educational effects, of course, but it also includes psychological and social effects.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the positive ways standardize testing can affect students, and we will also look at some of the more negative potential impacts. We will close by considering what teachers can do to help make students feel good about themselves when faced with the pressures of testing.

The Good Side of Testing

Often, we can be so oriented toward thinking about the stressful aspects of testing that we forget that standardized tests do benefit students in certain ways. Not all students reap the same benefits from standardized testing, of course, and this is very important to keep in mind. Still, what are some of the positive ways standardized testing can impact learners?

  • Test results can really help drive curriculum.

When used appropriately and in a timely manner, test results can help teachers design curricula to meet the needs of learners.

  • Doing well on a test can feel really good!

Even though we know the test does not tell the whole story, it can still make a student feel awfully good to get a high score.

  • A little pressure can help with studying and memory.

Sometimes, a little bit of stress acts motivationally and helps students retain information and synthesize it better for later use.

The Challenges of Standardized Testing

Although there are certainly some positive potentials in standardized testing, it is perhaps most important for teachers to think about the negative effects standardized testing has on students. Only by really understanding these effects can teachers help ease the burdens. Here, we will look at some of the problematic ways standardized tests impact students' lives.

  • Stress

It is awfully hard to face a standardized test without feeling the burden of stress. Standardized testing with high-stakes outcomes, like grade retention, inevitably leads to increased testing stress. This is particularly true when testing is timed, and students who have struggled in educational contexts in the past are likely to feel the stress most acutely. Stress can present itself in different ways, so watch for lack of motivation, acting out, sleepiness, tearfulness, and even behaviors you might associate with depression.

  • Unhealthy competition within a community

Of course a little competition can be motivating, but standardized tests can make students feel like they are trying to outdo one another. When a lot of time is devoted to test preparation and students are aware of how their peers are doing, this can really take away from the sense of community teachers work so hard to build.

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