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Is it time to put an end to standardized testing? Yes

By John Bennett
August 20, 2014
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Standardized testing could serve a purpose. It could inform educators, administrators, parents, students and researchers about what their students are learning effectively and deeply. But they don’t.

Why not? Let me count the reasons:

1. The tests are multiple guess (um, choice). This means they must be, by design, restricted to facts. And that, in turn, means they can measure only a student’s ability to memorize facts, rather than the degree to which they have achieved effective, deeper learning.

2. The tests are much too invasive. In some schools, class time dedicated just to taking the tests alone can be as high as two to four months out of each year — and that is just a fraction of the time they spend preparing for the tests. Know what that time is not being used for? Engaging students in effective, deeper learning.

3. Test results are used to make decisions about the capabilities of students, teachers, administrators and school systems. In some cases, these decisions involve students having to repeat tests or classes, schools losing funding, and teachers and administrators losing their jobs. The end result on the system (intended or not) is to push educators to teach to the test instead of facilitating effective, deeper learning.

4. By the time the test results are available, it is much too late for teachers to use them for formative feedback. If we’re going to test students, we should at least be using the results for the one thing they’re good for — gathering data that will help us improve and refine our educational approaches to achieve effective, deeper learning. When the results aren’t available until the end of the school year or later, it’s much too late to benefit the students who took the tests.

5. The tests are just one more way corporate entities are controlling education. Several big corporations have already grabbed their piece of the standardized testing pie, from selling “Common Core” curriculum and hardware to designing the PARCC online tests. Unfortunately, this will end up zapping beleaguered school budgets for resources with virtually zero value added for students. This is money that could be going toward educational approaches that actually result in effective, deeper learning.

Notice a pattern?

In truth, I do not expect standardized testing to end in my lifetime, thanks to the stranglehold that politicians, policy people and corporations currently have on education. I am not sure even a public outcry could change things. But I feel we must try, for two reasons:

  1. It shows teachers that at least part of the community understands what they have to deal with. Hopefully this support will help them deal with the mandates and even speak out against them. It surely did in Oklahoma!
  2. It shows school boards and administrators that some of the community wants a different approach — one that’s aligned with (say it with me now) effective, deeper learning.

While I have my doubts that standardized testing or its inappropriate uses will be eliminated anytime soon, I have hope that we can come together to put an end to teaching to the test so we can finally focus on our real job — facilitating effective, deeper learning.

John Bennett graduated from Lehigh University and Johns Hopkins University. After 11 years at United Technologies, he joined the University of Connecticut before retiring in 2009. His ongoing scholarship focuses on project-based learning, effective learning and problem solving.