The Standardized Testing Debate

Instructor: Derek Hughes
A contentious debate has arisen around the increased use of standardized tests to gauge student achievement and teacher effectiveness. This lesson will give a brief overview of both sides of this debate.

Standardized Testing Defined

With the introduction of 'No Child Left Behind' in 2001, standardized tests have become more prevalent and important in the classroom. Standardized tests are exams that are written, administered, and scored in the same way in every school and classroom. These tests are used in the classroom to measure student achievement and judge teacher effectiveness.

However, not all is rosy in the world of standardized testing. A contentious debate has arisen about the use of these tests, their effectiveness, and the unintended negative effects they have on education. This lesson will detail some of the broad arguments of both sides of the debate.

Proponents of Standardized Testing

Mrs. Jones is always happiest when the time comes to do the yearly round of standardized testing in her classroom. She is a firm supporter of the efficacy of these tests and will gladly debate anyone who opposes the tests. Like the many proponents of standardized testing, Mrs. Jones believes the tests are very good at several things.

First, she believes that these tests are excellent at objectively measuring student achievement. Experts, who don't know any of the students personally, write these tests. Therefore, she can be sure that they are evaluating student knowledge objectively. The results of the tests help Mrs. Jones see quantitatively what her students have learned.

Mrs. Jones believes that the results of the test can also show her how effective her instruction is. The tests are meant to test students on the skills and information they should have learned throughout the year. Mrs. Jones feels that if her students do well on the tests, her teaching has been effective. If students do poorly, especially in a particular area, Mrs. Jones is able to go back and reflect on what she could have done differently or better.

Mrs. Jones also thinks that it is helpful that the accountability that the tests provide extends beyond the classroom. Not only do the tests help her see whether or not her teaching was effective, they can help whole schools remain accountable for student achievement. In fact, if schools don't achieve at a certain level, there is a chance they could be restructured or taken over.

Finally, Mrs. Jones and other proponents of standardized testing feel that the tests are a good tool for comparing student achievement across the country. Because the tests are standardized and the same for every single student, you can easily compare a student's achievement from New York City with another student's from San Diego. Mrs. Jones feels that this is a good way to help improve achievement across the whole country.

Opponents of Standardized Testing

Mr. Jones, husband of Mrs. Jones and an elementary school teacher, is on the opposite side of the debate than his wife. He believes that, while the tests were meant initially to be useful tools for measuring and improving student achievement, the disadvantages of standardized tests outweigh the benefits.

The weeks leading up to standardized testing time is filled with heated debates in the Jones household. While Mrs. Jones believes that the tests are useful tools for objectively measuring student achievement, her husband is more skeptical. He argues that the tests only measure achievement at one point in time and don't take into account any external influences on the students.

For example, Mr. Jones says, one student may have slept poorly the night before the test. Though this student is the model learner, she may score lower on the test because she was tired or not feeling well. How can a test objectively measure achievement if something as small as a poor night's sleep can skew the results?

Mrs. Jones argues that she likes the tests because they help her see how effective her instruction is. Her husband doesn't quite agree. He feels that the tests have fundamentally changed teaching from focusing on critical thinking in reading, math, science, and social studies to focusing on just the skills necessary to help students do well on the standardized tests.

In this way, Mr. Jones feels that the increased use of standardized tests has led many schools and teachers to change their curriculum to 'teach to the test'. He believes that 'teaching to the test' is hurting the education system because students aren't given the opportunity to explore subject areas that won't appear on the test.

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