Common Objections To Standardized Tests

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Federal and state policymakers frequently argue over the role that standardized test data should take in improving our educational system.  One thing both sides seem to agree on: the current emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests must change.  Standardized testing definitely has its uses, yet the way it has been implemented and the way the data is used has come under fire from all sides ever since the No Child Left Behind version of the ESEA was put into effect.


What are the concerns?  What do parents need to know to form an opinion and advocate for their children?  What issues about testing should parents be aware of in order to communicate concerns to their school boards or state policy leaders? 

Too Much Time Spent On Testing  

Teachers have a set number of hours to teach a lot of material each school year. Taking time away from learning the new academic material in order to teach testing skills, and then time to administer the tests is time that is not being used to teach academics.  In some districts, up to five different standardized tests are given each year at some grade levels.  Teachers must spend time explaining the particular test, preparing for the test, reducing homework during the days the test is given, and then lose instructional time while the test is being given.  

Different districts and states are responding in a variety of ways.

 Some states are creating legislation that limits the number of hours in a school year that standardized tests can be administered.  Other areas are finding ways to get more information about what students know from the tests that are already given.

Testing Is Really Stressful  

Standardized tests are meant to measure how well a student has mastered the required skills for their grade level.

Many people, students included, do not perform their best when they feel stressed out.  We all know how anxious we feel when we have to take a test - are we really getting the best data on students for standardized tests?

This issue seems to be an inherent problem in any kind of test. Practice tests and explaining test expectations can help relieve some of the uneasiness students feel when being tested.

Too Much Pressure From Standardized Tests  

Some states require students to pass a test in order to graduate high school or to go on to the next grade, placing a huge amount of pressure on students to perform well on tests that can only ever measure how well they did on one test on a particular day.    Teachers and schools feel pressure since test scores can affect school funding and how independently a school may operate.  High levels of pressure for schools to meet adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind have even led some teachers and schools to try to cheat and give students the answers to the test questions.

Standardized Tests Are Often Culturally Biased  

The questions on standardized tests usually contain references to the world outside of the classroom.  What children all across our country see and experience in their communities outside of the classroom varies tremendously. For example, children from very small communities or those from very poor areas may not have ever visited a zoo, yet questions about zoos may be on a standardized test.  

Test writers have worked hard to develop questions that include all cultures and backgrounds by having review committees that help write and rewrite test questions to be easily read by all.  With the diversity in the United States, this is a difficult challenge to get perfect on a test that could be given across the nation.

Testing Data Isn't Available Fast Enough  

It takes weeks to months for standardized tests to be scored, compared, and the data made available to teachers and school administrators.  By the time the data is ready, it is too late to adjust teaching.  Often data isn't available until after the school year is over, leaving teachers and administrators with feedback that may help them with the next groups of students they have the following year, but unable to help the students who have already passed through.

Testing Data May Have Little To No Use For Individual Students

The federal government requires standardized testing in an effort to compare entire classrooms, schools, districts and even states. While some schools may use a child's test scores for class placement and individualized instruction in future years, many either rely minimally on individual test scores, or not at all.

Other countries that use standardized tests require that students gain a proficient level in order to move ahead a grade, or rely heavily on test scores for future school placements. The U.S. system's resistance to individual emphasis of test score use can make the time and stress of taking standardized tests seem unnecessary.

These criticisms have been voiced enough that many states and the federal government are all trying to find ways to avoid these problems in testing.  Being knowledgeable about which of these testing concerns affects your children and their schools will help you to be a more informed voter and school community member. 

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