Is Standardized Testing the Devil?

Wolf Prints examines the pros and cons of the standardized testing system

When students hear about Chicago Public school teachers boycotting the ISAT, and guest author of The Testing, Joelle Charbonneau, claims that her book was in protest of the President Bush’s educational reform legislation, No Child Left Behind, it’s easy for to wonder, “Am I missing something?”

Despite being kind of boring, the tests seem relatively harmless, or they at least don’t seem protest worthy.

Some protesters argue that the tests stifle creativity, put unnecessary stress on students, and are unfair to minorities, yet it may be unfair for to call them the devil because they are only trying to help students prepare for college and be able to compete with international test scores.

It would seem almost self evident that the  tests are hostile to creativity because the multiple choice design leaves little room for interpretation. The idea makes sense for math and science since there is an objective right answer, yet reading and English, which are very subjective, are redesigned to become rigid and formulaic to fit the standardized testing model. Not everyone may agree with John Baylor’s #1 Grammar Rule- always go with the shortest answer unless the shortest answer is horrible- yet that is usually the case on standardized tests. Turning grammar into a formula can be important for understanding it and applying it to your own writing. Published author Joelle Charbonneau, however, claims that the rules she learned in English class are irrelevant for professional authors because the editors take care of the grammar, and even they don’t follow strict guidelines. In a world that is very gray, these tests, that are so important for our future, are very black and white.

They also cause a lot of stress, especially in younger students, that could arguably be necessary to prepare them for the future stress of the ACT.

To add to that stress Illinois plans to introduce a new PARCC test that seeks to measure students’ readiness for college and careers, and of course, it will fall in the fourth quarter. Teachers and superintendents alike fear that the addition of another test will further solidify the fourth quarter as a quarter not of learning but testing. They argue that the best gauge in the realm of test taking is the ACT because students actually care about it and students can at least muster up enough brain power to try on the WorkKeys. The PARCC tests require a total of 9.5 hours of test taking throughout the fourth quarter. Students have enough to worry about: AP tests, the ACT, and final exams all take precedence over any other distractions at the end of the year because that is what the colleges care about. After all, the goal of these tests are to prepare students for college, but those in opposition are worried that it will be counterproductive.

Another staple of standardized tests is a huge focus on English, which, for a country that technically doesn’t have an official language, seem a little biased against students whose first language isn’t English. While it could be seen as important to stress English because it is the most common language and is found in all legal documents and in practically every public place, students who take the tests before they fully master the language won’t do as well even if they are just as good or better at math and science than other students. This makes schools with high populations of non-English speaking minorities look like failures.

All this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however, because, while there are so many things that make individual students special, there are only so many academic skills that can be measured. Richard P. Phelps, author of Defending Standardized Testing (2005), analyzed the qualitative data from several hundred studies on the effects of testing on academic achievement. According to his research, over the past 100 years “qualitative studies overwhelmingly find testing’s effect on student achievement to be positive: ninety-three percent of the studies analyzed reported positive effects, whereas only seven percent reported mixed effects, negative effects, or no change.”

While there is a minority whom the tests may fall short of helpful for, the tests represent the standard that society believes must be upheld. These “Common Core” standards aim to increase our international education ranking, which falls well below where we’d like to be.

President Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind to set a standard for all the states to live up to with test scores and to provide accountability so “no child gets left behind” due to poor teaching. It wasn’t to destroy creativity, to cause us a lot of stress, or to discriminate against minorities, though they may be unfortunate side effects. Our current system of testing may not be perfect, so as the most-tested generation we must use the successes and failures that we learn about standardized tests to create a better world of college preparation for our children because life is about making the best out of what we are given and seeking to improve it in the future.