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Using standardized tests to evaluate students and teachers has been an extreme mistake of the educational system. The seemingly flawless idea that high test scores show effective teaching and competent students has failed to be accurate. According to Alfie Kohn in “The Case Against Standardized Testing” standardized tests can’t measure “initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes.” Students memorize more than they learn and retain and do not learn the same and even teachers have been caught cheating to keep their jobs. Many benefactors even use standardized tests to take advantage of the education system. Standardized tests have undermined education and the success of many students. While the majority of modern peoples and teachers have accepted standardized tests to be the best method for evaluating student’s mental ability, the reality is that they fail to exemplify the true ability of individual students and teachers while also impacting them negatively.
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Standardized tests distributed by the state are known as high stakes tests. They are called so because schools with high outcomes can get praise and financial rewards while schools with low outcomes are declared unsatisfactory and may receive sanctions. Furthermore, students with low scores may be held back in a certain grade. These are a few of the many stakes on the line with standardized tests. It has only been recently that schools have replaced use of standardized tests for academic placement and for determining student needs, with judging student’s intelligence and holding them back from diplomas (Kohn).
Effects Against Students
To most, this idea seems fine, but there are many problems with it. Gregory J. Merchant states that the National Association of School Psychologists believes holding students back “is bad policy with devastating effects” (3). Many cities have failed students for underachieving in standardized tests. In Baltimore, 20,000 students were held back. For the student, being picked out as the “dumb one” could damage them psychologically. Individual students could get left behind by the peers and friends they value most in their own grade level. Not only will this effect individuals, but large masses of students get held back leading to anxiety about standardized tests. Students in same level grades might be at different levels of their cognitive development, but due to grade level’s use of age instead of intelligence level, many of those students are stuck taking tests created for the upper hand of the class and leaving them the consequences of biological factors. . While it is good to have students be at their own intelligence level with peers, it would be better to change age level based grades.
An increase of failure and retention from grade level to grade level could also lead to an increase of dropout rates due to pressure. In Boston, the dropout rate was increased by 300 percent which was directly attributed to standardized tests (Merchant 3). It has also been examined that tests created for educational purposes were biased on minority comprehension (Myers 334). In other words minorities generally do worse on these tests than many of the dominant white majority. This also causes many of those minorities, to feel unsatisfactory and overall dumber. Being Hispanic in high school and observing many of my friends, siblings, and relatives who have dropped out, there have been many occasions in which Hispanics believe they could not further their education. My peers also had the mindset that they were to dropout or just enter the workforce immediately after high school.
These stakes not only make students further fear tests but make them wonder, as they drift through school, “I this going to be on the test?” Anxiety, fear, and anger towards standardized tests are overflowing student’s minds. Attitudes towards test not only manifest themselves in students through cheating and loafing but also inhibit success on tests by plummeting students with anxiety. (Merchant 4). “Ten million students in elementary and secondary schools performed below ability on tests because of anxiety” (Merchant 4). Merchant explains a possible increase due to the “increased emphasis and importance of testing” (4). Tests have shown to cause a lot of physical and psychological problems for students. Truancy and stress all make the education system negatively impact students, especially the young ones.
The extent that modern schools make students strive for excellence beyond the busy work of the classroom is pitiful. The most any student needs to know is an equation and numbers to plug in, but there is no actual knowledge of the actual equation used. Now, all that matter is “what is going to be on the test.” What does mx + b mean when all you do is plug in numbers accordingly. In my experience with school I have never truly needed to know and understand material fully to achieve a good grade even though I have strived to do so. Furthermore I have only had to think critically in a handful of situations. There has been “A statistical association between high scores on standardized tests and relatively shallow thinking” (Kohn). Although many creative thinkers also score well on tests and many shallow thinkers sometimes score high, the bases that someone can do well on a test by merely “copying down answers, guessing a lot, and skipping the hard parts” creates an extreme gap in accurate measurements of students’ knowledge (Kohn). Many students understand little of the subject or methods being used. While individually effective teachers do help, it is still incredibly difficult to achieve proper measurements in a contemporary day classroom focusing on state tests and other agendas.
Tests are now used as a measuring stick for students’ and teachers’ achievement but the scores do not properly reflect the quality of academia. To begin with, tests are a comparison of one person relative to the rest of the population of students. This in turn makes it incredibly difficult to set up a test according to the knowledge that should be established at each level. One reason for that being that not everyone at the same age is at the same level. Potential is not measured by where someone is but where they can go. Another negative effect of this idea is that if a state with 140,000 students rose the standard cutoff score for a certain grade to be five more percentiles, 7,000 students would not pass to the next level or be considered average (Merchant 2).
For these reasons, students also do not learn what they should learn or gain actual intelligence. Gregory states that basic items that students should master do not show up on tests, and due to limits of time, any certain questions striving to measure knowledge may be too few to have reliable measurements of specific skill (Merchant 3). Gregory even goes on to say that a few good guesses or skipped answers may determine the “skill level” of students. Standardized tests then show their limitations in assessing real student growth (3).
Effects on Teachers
For the eighteen years I have been in school striving toward “academic achievement” and scoring “big numbers” on standardized tests, the focus has been cognitive development, understanding through thought. Although this is not bad, the ways schools have gone about it is terribly wrong. School, through my experience, has consisted of countless hours of sitting in a room looking up at what teachers were saying. This method, while working for some students, has failed to truly challenge students mentally as well as not significantly teach others. One of the main reasons for these, frankly, boring classes is standardized tests. These functions will ultimately hurt the students.
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Do teachers try to teach a well-rounded student or a good test taker? Effects of standardized tests are easily found in the classroom. It is also thought that good scores reflect the teacher’s effectiveness. Waiting time on preparing for tests rather than learning other material is a serious factor. Teachers worried about bad tests scores spend an incredible amount of time teaching students how to take tests instead of teaching learning skills and knowledge (Merchant 4). Teachers begin to focus on materials students need on the tests. The curriculum then starts to be narrowed down. Gregory states that teachers even stop focusing on creative learning, such as projects, to reinstate lecture methods (4). The bad part of this is bad teachers focused on tests could get passed off as good teachers when in fact they are not. Schools cut out music, art, and social studies to focus on reading and math for tests and teach them accordingly to do well on tests, which in turn cuts a major opportunity of learning for students. Even the ACT science test focusses on student’s ability to read rather than knowledge of science. These methods do not just hurt students by neglecting countless areas of study but also by subjecting them as equal learners.
The theory of Multiple Intelligence tells us that different people think and understand differently. Howard Gardner a well-known psychologist expresses intelligence in eight different packages, one being bodily-kinesthetic which requires movement unlike that of a classroom. Another psychologist, Robert Sternberg, proposed three intelligences. Sternberg called one of these intelligences “analytical intelligence” which expresses what would be known as intelligence geared for modern school classroom (Myers 330 – 333).
One of the possibly worst outcomes of this new found method is the cheating by teachers throughout the states. Because many states now use tests to measure teachers too, teachers begin to cheat to keep their jobs as well as get better funding. While this idea is not very prevalent there have been a few cases amongst cheating teachers. After asking teachers in two school districts how prevalent they felt cheating on standardized tests was, they responded with multiple cases of “belief of cheating as well as witnessing cheating. (Brian 2-3). Jacob Brian in “Rotten Apples” also goes on to reveal cheating cases in four separate states (2)
It is also seen that teachers and many people have found methods for taking tests. In effect, teachers begin to teach these methods in place of critical thinking and real knowledge. Pointing to the conclusion that students, again, do not learn important subjects but methods they might not even understand. Another problem with the teacher side of standardized testing is the parallels needed to be held with state curriculums. One teacher using the methods for student success on tests might look more successful than the ones who teach effectively but not geared for tests.
A Possible Politics Angle
Politics has also affected the use of standardized tests in the class room. Not for the good cause of not leaving a child behind, but to manipulate schools accordingly. Recently, tests have been overthrowing the education seen but only in the United States. “Few countries today give these formal examinations to students before the age of sixteen or so,” (Kohn). For the most part the intent of standardized enthusiasts is to raise school standards. There might be some other unseen agenda too though. Some ideas as proposed by Alfie Kohn state that some people intend to use standardized tests to form negative perceptions of public schools in hopes of privatizing education.
While schools are still dominated by standardized tests the outcome is looking bright. Hundreds of schools have begun to drop tests like the ACT and SAT from their admissions forms (Kohn). It is seen that standardized tests bring forth more negative effects than they do good. Albeit proponents of standardized tests express concern for incentives to learn, and inhibiting unqualified students from bringing down their peers, using standardized tests produce false measurements and negative effects. .
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