Why I Don't Like Standardized Tests

Guest post by Cathy Earle
As an educator, I am sometimes called upon to teach children test preparation skills. I do so because these particular children are going to have to take a particular test – it's a reality. However, the first step of my test prep lesson is to tell the children that I don't like standardized tests, especially high-stakes tests. I don't believe they should have to take them, and, I tell them, I didn't subject my own kids to them.

Here are my major reasons for my antipathy toward standardized tests:

1. Standardized tests measure only certain kinds of knowledge or abilities -- arguably the lowest level and least important. They don't do a great job of measuring higher level thinking skills or creativity, and they say nothing about whether or not students are able to solve real-world problems, let alone whether or not students are willing to read for information or enjoyment.

2. Standardized tests are very much open to cheating, and with high stakes testing, the motivation to cheat is high.

3. Standardized tests encourage something that, though it is not considered cheating, completely undermines any knowledge one might gain about a learner, institution or system: test prep. Are we testing which kids have skills and which schools produce knowledgeable students, or are we testing who spends the most time and money on preparation for the tests? Test prep undercuts the entire education system, since as tests proliferate, more and more time is spent on preparation for tests, to the detriment of everything worthwhile.

4. Standardized tests cause anxiety--sometimes extreme anxiety---in many test-takers, thus reducing any useful knowledge about their knowledge or abilities. Since we aren't going to learn useful things about these kids through the scores, why put them through the pain?

5. Standardized tests give artificially low scores for kids who are late readers but who know a lot and are highly intelligent. Ditto late bloomers in math. (Research shows that late formal academics is better for kids, at any rate, so I shouldn't even be calling these kids "late"!) Thus, testing in elementary grades can be especially harmful as it doesn't give kids time to develop skills according to their own developmental schedule.

6. Standardized tests give artificially low scores for kids who aren't detail oriented and who find carefully filling in bubbles, completely erasing changed answers, keeping track of item numbers, and other niggly details almost impossible to care about, let alone accomplish. Testing also punishes with low scores the wiggly kids who need to move in order to think. Many of these kids are incredibly bright!

7. Standardized tests are unfair to people from minority cultures or unusual backgrounds. Also, many test items are extremely ambiguous or open to multiple interpretations, which is another way of being unfair. Of course, test makers assure us that they have thought of all of this and have worked hard to solve these problems. But I've worked with the most up-to-date materials, and there are still a lot of problems.

8. If we trusted parents, teachers, and administrators to care about kids, work hard on behalf of kids, help kids learn, work to solve problems, and communicate with each other regarding the kids' progress, we wouldn't need standardized tests. If we can't trust school personnel to do these things, we can't trust them with the kids, at all! We as a nation don't actually need to track, compare, rank, and label every student! Ditto teachers, schools, and districts.

9. Adults who are certain that standardized tests are imperative for children should let kids off the hook and go ahead and set up high-stakes testing in their business, churches, organizations, and homes. Measure away! Label and rank your workers, and be sure to publish the scores. Give your spouse spending money based on test scores! Keep your rabbi and cantor, or club president and committee leaders, or board of directors accountable by testing them. All of this would be incredibly unhelpful and counter-productive, of course--but it is, as well, for kids!

10. We know a lot about what learners need - and we should provide those things and then TRUST that learning is happening. Learning is stunted or even stopped by constant or intrusive evaluation. Paraphrasing John Holt, who paraphrased an unnamed father: If a gardener planted carrots and provided the right amounts of minerals and air in the soil, sunlight, and water -- but then, in his anxiety over his crop, dug up the baby carrots every day and measured them to make sure they were growing -- well, the farmer might not get a crop of carrots at all! If some of the carrots still grew despite all the digging up and replanting, they would probably be smaller and less straight than if the farmer had just let them grow. In the same way, we should provide good learning environments for children, but then trust them and let them grow.

Cathy Earle is an educator who has taught in public schools and a variety of private venues. She was a curriculum lab director at Orange Unified School District and a managing editor for American Learning Corporation, where she wrote and edited textbooks and a wide variety of learning materials. She has been a freelance education writer working for such clients as The Learning Company, Orange County Department of Education, and Disney Software. She homeschooled her own children from birth to college, using child-led and interest-based methods rather than formal academic techniques. Her daughters are now all grown, and it is nice to be able to report that “it all turned out fine”: Two have graduated with honors from four-year colleges, and one of these has gone on to earn an advanced degree. The youngest daughter, just 19, is a professional dancer for Holland America Cruise Line.

Her blog for children, Every Day Is Special, can be found at http://every-day-is-special.blogspot.com/.
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1 comment for "Why I Don't Like Standardized Tests"

  1. Not all are true. Everyone has their own way of thinking but I think they have to reconsider. I like to argue for the most accurate results.