Since the mid-1800s, standardized tests have been part of American education. Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, with its accompanying mandated annual testing, the use of standardized tests has skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2009, American students dropped from 18th to 31st place in mathematics in the world. Science showed a similar decline, while reading held steady. Education failures have been blamed variously on teacher quality, rising poverty levels, tenure policy, and increasingly, on standardized testing.
Why Standardized Tests Are Bad?
Creativity is suppressed by Yes/No or multiple choice questions. Because the tests are read and scored by a machine, any creative answer written by a student goes unseen, or is counted wrong.
Students are aware that their test scores may affect their future, so some will do whatever it takes to pass them. Cheating and taking performance drugs, such as Ritalin, may up their grades, but won't increase their knowledge.
Test companies are a multi-billion dollar a year business, who manufacture not only the tests, but also test preparation courses. Schools located in lower socio-economic areas may not have the funds to purchase these programs as the schools do that are located in higher socio-economic areas. Therefore, students don't get equal preparation.
Teaching to the Test
Because of the importance placed on the standardized test results, teachers spend more time teaching "to the test", rather than teaching a well-rounded curriculum. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Law that tests only math, science, and reading, the arts, grammar, history, PE, music, and other subjects get far less attention than was formerly given. Much classroom time is now spent either preparing for the test or taking the test.
Another reason why standardized tests are bad is that they provide no feedback on how to improve. Teachers and students don't get the results until months later, defeating any possibility of learning from it.
Real World Preparation
Tests of any sort are designed to measure a student's grasp of the concepts and knowledge acquired in the classroom setting. It's long been accepted that students must not communicate during a test, use notes or the textbook, although some teachers occasionally vary these methods. However, the narrow scope of subject material that the standardized tests cover is not educating a student to adjust to adulthood in the real world. Emphasis on math and reading is crucial, but so are English grammar, spelling, history, and geography. Music and the arts balance a student's education, while physical education trains students to live a healthy life.
Too Much Stress
Standardized tests often create stress for many students. Students who have a low self-esteem of their scholastic ability will dread these tests to the point of being over-stressed. Some students thrive on a certain low level of stress, others don't. This creates an unfair atmosphere for the students.
Every student is a unique individual, and has a unique background, learning style, ability, and life history. This is another reason why standardized tests are bad: they treat students as if they're all alike, from year to year and from region to region. Although testing can't be individualized to every student everywhere, there can be a better way of testing than through the standardized test.
Low Self Worth
Standardized tests do not allow for creative but accurate responses to the questions presented. A student's knowledge may meet or exceed the test, but if he or she can't express that knowledge in their unique style, their test score may be abnormally low. This lowers the self-worth, giving the student the illusion that he or she is "dumb". This perception can remain with a person their entire life unless something or someone proves to them otherwise.
When a student does well on a test, the student, teacher, and parents assume that the child knows the material. But this isn't necessarily true. A student can memorize the material long enough to take the test without really learning and assimilating it.
Serving Other Purposes
Too often, standardized tests benefit everyone involved except the students. When school administrators boost test scores, their funding is increased and they avoid penalties imposed for low scores. Politicians promise higher scores to get reelected. Parents get bragging rights. The testing companies grow rich while the students suffer.
School Cultures and Resources
Test preparation and taking consumes some schools for weeks on end. With limited activity and movement, sometimes even restroom use is limited. Computer labs are tied up for testing, rendering them unavailable for learning. Schools whose students perform poorly may lose necessary funding or be threatened with closure.
One huge reason why standardized tests are bad is that they label the students. A student who repeatedly tests poorly will be labeled as "slow" or "learning disabled". High test scores lead teachers and parents alike to place higher expectations on those students who achieve them, causing them undue stress and the drive to constantly surpass their former performances. The "slow learner" will grow up with a sense of never being able to succeed, while the "smart" kids are performance-driven, never having the chance to be themselves.
Are There Other Assessment Methods?
If we do not use standardized tests, how will we know how students and programs are doing?
An astute teacher is more qualified to assess a student's knowledge and ability than is a multiple-choice standardized test. These achievement tests can be used as a part of a thorough assessment system, but they are just one small component of the system. A dedicated, trained teacher who assesses the students who are being taught a complete curriculum in a balanced classroom setting will be better qualified to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student.
Are other methods of assessment reliable?
Just as a panel of judges can effectively rate the performance of Olympic athletes, so a trained team of judges can evaluate and assess a student's level of knowledge and ability. Based on daily assignments, student interviews, and special projects, an accurate determination can be made by such judges. Care must be given to evaluate fairly without consideration of race, gender, class, or other cultural factors.