Stop Standardized Tests

Fair warning, this post might seem like it’s straight out of left field. Most of the posts in this group up to now have been about energy, going green, and community development. All of these things are clearly relevant to our class but I feel like it is time to change things up a little.

For numerous reasons, I have never liked standardized tests. My primary gripe is that they do not accurately reflect how good or how smart students are. They merely show how well one kid was able to recall information while they were sitting down taking that one test. President Obama said in a speech on the ineffectiveness of standardized tests that we need to “[stop acting like] the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles. We know that’s not true.” And I believe most people agree with him.

First consider The GRE; we all had to take it. Our scores were based on how fast we can write, how many words we know, and how carefully we read the questions. One more example is the NFL combine. This quantifies an athlete’s abilities based on metrics like how fast they run and how high they jump. Neither of these tests show how one will perform on the job or in the classroom. My point is no standardized test measures intangibles.

To be clear, I am not just talking about one particular test, I am criticizing this system that we have in America that bases not only intelligence but also ability to succeed on a handful of excruciatingly long, dull examinations. Furthermore, there are many examples of students underperforming on tests in spite of doing well in their classes. So why do we place so much weight on these scores? And why do we insist on giving students more and more standardized tests?

I propose that we drastically cut back the number of standardized tests students take. Certification exams and admissions tests to the highest education programs (medicine, law, etc.) will almost certainly have to stay but high stakes year-end exams in high school and below should be nixed.

What should we do instead? We need to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable somehow. Let’s model our schools after our universities. All of the world rankings agree that the United States has the best university system, yet our schools consistently rank far from the top. Instead of letting one do or die test determine whether a student advances or not we should assess performance per courses – university freshmen aren’t immediately kicked out of their major for failing chemistry, they repeat that class not freshman year. By scaling back standardized tests we can focus on teaching students the subjects instead of how to “choose the most correct answer.”

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