First, a definition: A standardized test is a test that is scored in a consistent, or “standard” manner across schools or nationwide. “Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner.” (Wikipedia). The consistency of the tests presumably makes them easier to compare across groups. In other words, if all 11-year-olds are administered the same test, one might argue that their cumulative answers can provide some clue as to their academic achievements. What standardized tests do not take into consideration, however, are cultural differences among the test takers. In the United States, students from many cultures attend the same classes. The standardized tests administered do not reflect the mentality or background of a child from Korea or Mexico as one who was born and raised in the United States.
Moreover, standardized tests are answered on a punch card, through multiple questions, where one of the possible answers is correct. Simply guessing at the answer might produce results similar to ones where a child applies him or herself. With one out of four answers being correct, that 25% probability is an easy guess. But to arrive at measures and statistics relating to entire groups based on such a test is absurd. Such a test measures nothing, if “achievement” is determined by marks on a punch card, rather than the deeper comprehension of the subject matter. Naturally, assessing such deeper comprehension requires much more involvement from the educators themselves in reading and grading such efforts. Standardized tests, by their nature and their ubiquity, require only the most superficial kind of regurgitation of answers, and do not, therefore, measure understanding of the subject matter.
If standardized tests were devised in order to rank students, they do a poor job of it. How many times have we seen a student fail miserably in his academic studies, only to shine later on when left to do what he or she enjoyed? Indeed, wasn’t Einstein himself a “poor” student?
Standardized tests require great effort by the developers of the tests, as well as great sums of money by the state to administer them, grade them and use their results to formulate future academic courses. It is money and effort that would be so much better spent in areas that truly teach students how to think critically, how to analyze information, how to develop insight and exhibit sound judgment in their lives as productive citizens.
For as long as standardized tests have been administered, there has been no correlation between their administration and the level of education in this country. Is it not time to rethink them?
Studies have shown that the most effective “learning” occurs where the student is able to apply material learned to an abstract situation in his or her own life. The preferred method for instilling such learning is through a special form of testing, known as the adjunct test. For example, an experiment conducted with two groups of seventh-grade students, in which they were given a 750-word passage to read. One group had to answer 10 adjunct questions, two of which were inserted following each 150-word segment of text; the other group had no such questions added to the text. Both groups received a test on the material immediately following reading, and again one day later. The group that received the adjunct questions performed significantly better on both the immediate recall and delayed post-tests.
As an educator, my aim is to ensure that whatever I teach is not only retained by the student, but more than rote, I want my student to apply that knowledge. Standardized tests do not measure such understanding, and should be eliminated, in favor of in-class tests administered during the course, mid-term exams and final exams, and application of the subject matter through the performance of various projects. Students should not be measured against each other, and certainly not as a “standard” (average) against so-called similar students in other parts of the country.