“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that.” — Michelle Obama

The amount of time students spend taking standardized tests during school has grown significantly in recent years. America’s youth are required to give up valuable class time to take federally-mandated assessments that are used to compare them, their schools and their states to others. Standardized tests are generally multiple choice and focused mainly on English and math, though sometimes social studies and science are included in the tests, as well.

The point of standardized testing is to determine the average score of schools, states and the nation and to compare and contrast them. This is to see where help should be provided and to decide what should be done for America and its education system to progress.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.
Standardized testing provide few insights to help students succeed, but plenty of ammunition for those who would punish low-achieving schools. Alberto G. via Flickr

However, it is appropriate to consider whether all these tests are actually helping, if these assessments students must take so frequently really will help our nation’s educational systems and the students they serve to make progress.

Standardized testing started off with seemingly innocent intentions, but today it has grown destructive to America’s public education system. Big companies that create the tests won’t stop making tests even though they cause harm in our school systems, because they profit and grow wealthy from those school systems using their tests.

According to evidence, one of the many problems with the tests is that the tests, for one, have no evidence supporting the idea that they are in any way beneficial. Many consider the No Child Left Behind legislation to have lowered the national success rate in education. A study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “available evidence does not give strong support for the use of test-based incentives to improve education.” Scholars agree that a single test score or a set of test scores don’t really measure what students have learned in a test or at school. The tests don’t cover many skills and leave out material.

Additionally, standardized tests do not accurately measure how much a student has learned or his or her aptitude. The tests are used solely for many important decisions, so if you have a score that is below excellent, there could be serious and unintended ramifications that were not even meant for you by those who designed the test.

Test scores are used for many decisions. For instance, they were widely used to label schools. Schools tagged as “failing” can diminish teacher and administrative pay, encourage parents to move their students to another school and ultimately lead to the schools’ closure. Standardized tests are also used to determine how effective teachers are, whether a school should be stripped of certain freedoms and be placed under purely Common Core standards, without electives or fun, and whether a school should lose funds. On the other hand, the schools that have better test results often receive rewards, such as more funding.

Schools spend great amounts time — not to mention money — to secure assessments and make sure there is no cheating, but students are more likely to cheat as more pressure is placed upon them to perform well.

Tests do not provide any insight to what should be done to improve the scores and to help the students succeed, so they serve no true purpose or benefit to schools or their students.

These tests generally do not contain enough material to really be able to evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses. According to the National Academy, the left-out information is most often “the portion of the curriculum that deals with higher levels of cognitive functioning and application of knowledge and skills.”

Standardized testing leads to less time learning, a more narrow curriculum and more time overall taking tests. This disrupts school routines, lessens time teaching and learning. Class time is spent on teaching to the test, practice tests and learning test-taking strategies.

The tests have been said many times to stifle creative thinking, to fail to effectively measure the achievement gap between social groups, and to demean one’s love of learning and self-confidence.

Schools spend great amounts time — not to mention money — to secure assessments and to make sure there is no cheating, but students are more likely to cheat as stakes rise and as more pressure is placed upon them to perform well.

Evaluations of teachers and decisions to close schools that perform poorly use test scores as the main source of judgement. Schools that receive budget cuts from the government based on test results are forced into firing teachers, raising class sizes, and losing programs of value. This process is harmful, but unfair decisions based on test scores alone continue to be made.

A proposed bill in the recently concluded state legislative session, House Bill 2730, would have restricted standardized testing in public school, a critical step in the right direction for education in Hawaii. The bill would have limited “public school student participation in standardized tests, prohibit(ed) the use of standardized tests scores for evaluation purposes, authorize(d) standardized testing exemptions, and require(d) the Board of Education to provide notice of the right to opt out of standardized testing.”

Unfortunately, the bill was killed after passing only one reading. Why?

Restraints on these federally mandated assessments is necessary for Hawaii and our entire nation to move back up on international rankings of student knowledge and application.

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