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Why standardized testing is problematic


Okay, as students, we probably all think standardized testing is problematic because we do not like taking the SAT, ACT, AP, or, really, any kind of test. Or on the flip side, we might think standardized testing is problematic because everyone else tries much too hard to get good marks. However, standardizing testing has some real problems beyond the complaints of students being students—standardized testing follows an outdated system and provides less than accurate results.

Picture a factory. People are sitting in rows, hunched over and working on something on their desk, occasionally listening to the orders of the manager standing in front. Now picture a regular classroom. People are sitting in rows, hunched over and working on something on their desk, occasionally listening to the directions and teachings of the teacher standing in front. Sound familiar?

Our school system was heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution, since many schools were formed to teach children the skills and knowledge necessary for factory work. Subjects such as basic math, science, English, and history were taught to give children the means to understand their factory jobs and have a bit of necessary background knowledge. The only cognitive skill they needed developed was rote-memorization, which was tested by measuring how much content they could regurgitate back based on what they had just learned.

In that kind of educational setting, standardized testing is not all that bad—tests were able to evaluate the needed cognitive skill with relative ease. However, today, we no longer value only rote-memorization, nor do we expect our education system to prepare students only for factory work.

According to Seoul University professor Sun-Geun Baek in a paper he wrote for Educational Psychology Review, “preparation for [standardized] tests often leads to the acquisition of ‘inert’ knowledge,” with “inert ideas” meaning ideas in the mind that are not “used, tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.” In other words, standardized testing and all of the processes leading up to a student taking it does not challenge the entirety of the student’s cognitive skills, and in the contrary creates knowledge that is basically useless outside of the purpose of being tested. These tests do not test our intelligence, and do little to increase our intelligence in any of the preparation processes, so why do we still rely only on them as our primary source of student assessment?

Some say standardized tests are crucial to the educational system because they are objective and are the most efficient way to obtain data from thousands of students. However, multiple studies have shown that, because the tests do not actually measure intelligence and performance is based on how well learned a student is, standardized tests and the system based around them create and perpetuate a cultural and economical bias. That is, students from other cultures who have a different kind of context and background knowledge and students from lower economic classes who did not have the opportunity to high quality education or out-of-school resources can possibly score lower than their rich, white counterparts, despite having similar intelligence levels. This bias takes off the reliable, “objective” veneer of standardized tests.

So if standardized tests do not properly measure intelligence and perpetuate bias, should they still be treated with the weight they are now in the educational system? Sure, they serve some purposes, such as yielding large amounts of empirical data and testing students on content-based knowledge. But standardized tests should not be the basis of our entire educational system, and they should not be treated as something they are not.

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    David Coleman | Apr 12, 2018 at 10:25 am

    This article earned a CSPA Gold Circle Honorable Mention! Nice Going Marie!