The scratch of a pencil on paper fills up the tiny circles on the page. The sound of fingertips tapping on desks and hands fidgeting from nervous energy fills the room. The anxiety an individual feels as their mind blanks, though they’ve spent countless hours studying. Sound familiar? They are the feelings students experience during standardized testing. Standardized tests are issued by a central board- a school system, state, or country- and are meant to assess general understanding by offering a set of consistent questions or scoring responses in a consistent way.
The practice of requiring standardized testing within school curriculums has been around since the 19th century. It was originally used by teachers to assess class understanding and needs. For students, one positive aspect of standardized tests is their function as a measure of personal growth in a specific subject. Scores on standardized tests provide students insight into which areas they need to improve, letting students identify feasible and important academic goals. Standardized tests are also made to be fair and simply test mastery of a certain subject or content level. Providing students with a test not specifically catered to them provides both a challenge and a source for self-assessment, as the score is meant to reflect the student’s understanding of a subject in an unbiased manner. Testing also gives pre-college-aged students a good idea of how tests in college will work and how to approach these tests if they choose higher education in the future. One could even consider the exposure to standardized testing at a young age to be good preparation for an academic future, or even tasks within the workforce, as they force you to prepare and think critically about specific topics.
Despite their benefits, standardized tests also have a significant negative impact on students. These tests are tied to acceptance into certain schools or graduation, so there is a lot of pressure to ace them. This pressure induces stress onto young adults that should not have to deal with such negative feelings in an environment where they are meant to prosper and prepare for their future. Another issue with standardized testing is the fact that they are so consistent. Test scores do not measure intelligence, especially test scores that are based on a set of 50 questions everyone is meant to answer. These tests do not cater to individuals who have other interests, making them seem “lesser than” because of a lower score, though a number should not define them or set up their future.
Beyond students, there are countless other groups that are involved in or affected by standardized testing. This includes teachers, administrators, and school boards or state education boards. Teachers are the ones administering the standardized tests. It provides them with an easy way to see how their students did regarding the test’s standards without having to design a test themselves. The results of a standardized test could allow teachers to understand what content areas they need to focus on with certain students. For school administrators and education boards, tests provide a standard way to see how a group of students is doing in order to address any concerns in a certain area or field. By mandating the use of standardized tests within a certain region, school boards have a large pool of data to learn more about student performance and habits.
There is also the matter of whether these tests really apply to our world. How do scantron sheets help an aspiring artist or entrepreneur, or doctor? Where is the overlap between multiple-choice questions and chefs or computer scientists or pilots? There isn’t one. Our world’s technology has evolved so much in just the last two decades, providing thousands of new career paths, none of which are prepared for by taking a standardized test. Instead of teaching material to achieve the goal of a good test score, we should be teaching material to achieve the goal of a prosperous, innovative, and progressive future.
Returning to the benefits of standardized testing, they are not impossible to replicate: understanding can be measured through different initiatives, such as projects or personal pursuits, as opposed to a set of pre-made questions. Individual goal setting without the use of scores is also an important skill to have, as standardized testing will not always be available to assist in self-assessment. The practice of standardized testing is outdated, has a negative impact on students, and needs to be altered in order to meet the world of tomorrow.