Standardized Testing

Andrew Botolino

With the SAT, MCAS, and AP tests among others approaching, now is the time of year when students are cramming material in preparation for the next big test that lies ahead. The truth is, these standardized tests are an outdated, flawed, and for some, the flat-out wrong way of measuring knowledge.

But why are standardized tests so detrimental? First off, they evaluate a student’s performance on a particular day. They do not take into account hindrances from external factors, such as family matters. These things can take one’s focus off the test, therefore damaging that student’s performance.

In addition, the way students show knowledge is completely different ranging from one kid to the other. While a student can be excellent at test-taking, another student could be better at showing their knowledge through imagery, diagrams, or building something. The fact that every student learns and shows knowledge differently is crucial to how students are measured, and quite frankly, the American education system in general could be doing a lot better at that.

That is why we’ll be taking tests that teachers are being forced to teach to, eliminating creativity in the classroom, and at times inhibiting the natural actions of the human person, like laughing, moving around, talking or using the bathroom without restriction.

The amount of stress tests place on students is extremely unnecessary, and perhaps the greatest cumbrance to children out of all the negatives standardized tests present. Stress and anxiety are horrible feelings we’ve all had to deal with before, during, and after taking a test. But why do we feel these emotions so strongly, when all we are dealing with is a few papers?

While one paper is as light as a feather, that same paper with the word MCAS or SAT inked across it weighs a whole lot more. These tests are synonymous with the success of one’s future. And knowing that your future college or even career depends on whether you circled the right letter will naturally cause a great deal of stress. This stress is not healthy whatsoever.

Similar to almost anything else in the United States, standardized testing revolves around money. States pay Pearson a large sum of money, as well as McGraw-Hill and other testing vendors to make up the standardized tests that students take. And Pearson’s priority is not to have its students score well, or better yet, to learn. No, it is to make money. Pearson rakes in approximately four billion dollars a year from the North American Education Division, according to Politico. And while Pearson’s contracts set specific performance targets, Pearson is never penalized when they fail to meet them.

It is said best by Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot in an interview with the Maryland Reporter: “Pearson developed tests that are inappropriate to the age group, ambiguously worded, self-contradictory and therefore are virtually impossible for a majority of grade school children to pass.”

Consider the differences between the American and Finnish education systems. There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one at the end of the students’ senior year. There are no rankings or comparisons between students, schools or regions. In America, the basis of education is competition. For instance, students’ performances are measured with other students, and how well one school performs is measured against others. Well, since the American education system loves comparisons so much, compare Finland’s number-one ranking to the United State’s 46th in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s Health and Primary Education tests. Obviously Finland is doing something right.

And much of their success in education correlates to the fact that they think outside the box when it comes to measuring students’ knowledge. Instead of one big test in a period of two hours that measures a student’s learning over seven to nine months, Finland periodically tests its students through teacher-made exams, which often aren’t even paper-and-pencil tests. Often times they include methods that seem childish to us, like drawing or role-play. In addition, you’ll rarely find a multiple choice exam in Finnish schools.

According to The Washington Post, the senior year test is very far off from the ones we’ll be seeing shortly. Consisting of much fewer questions, each encouraging engagement and deep thought processes, and the option for students to choose what to answer out of a pool of questions, Finland’s testing style seems revolutionary.

Finland has become quite good at encouraging its teachers to improvise, try new methods, and feel free to change things up create a system where education is always improving due to trial and error. Because the flexibility is so great, Finland’s experimenting has brought incredibly fast change and proficiency to their students’ education.

Standardized testing has been proven many times to be an inferior way of measuring knowledge, so while students labour away at studying the year’s worth of material for that test they feel won’t prove what and how much they learned this school year, it is known that with the overwhelming amount of evidence displacing the effectiveness of standardized tests, change in the way students’ learning is evaluated is coming soon.