12 Primary Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

Standardized testing has been part of the US educational system since the mid-1800s and even skyrocketing after the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has mandated annual testing in all the states. However, American students have slipped from 18th in the 2000 world math rankings to 31st place in 2009, with a similar decline in science, while there has been no change in reading.

Now, these and other failures in the system have been blamed on teacher quality, rising poverty levels, tenure policies and, increasingly, on standardized testing. While proponents say that the tests are objective and fair in measuring student achievement, opponents claim otherwise, that their use promotes a narrow curriculum and drill-like teaching to the test, that would undermine the country’s ability to produce critical thinkers and innovators. To come up with a wise opinion on this matter, let us take a look at the pros and cons of standardized testing.

List of Pros of Standardized Testing

1. It is a reliable and objective measure of student achievement.
Without these tests, policy makers would have to depend on tests that are scored by individual teachers and schools that have a vested interest in producing favorable results. Particularly, multiple-choice tests are graded by machine, which means that they are not subject to human bias or subjectivity.

2. It has a positive effect on student achievement.
Almost all research on student testing, including high-stakes and large-scale standardized tests, have found a positive effect on student achievement. This is according to a peer review and a 100-year analysis of testing that was completed in 2011 by scholar Richard P. Phelps.

3. It focuses on essential content and skills.
Focusing on content and skills, standardized testing can eliminate a waste of time in doing activities that do not produce learning gains and motivate students to excel. As stated by the Department of Education, “If teachers cover subject matter required by the standards and teach it well, then students will master the material on which they will be tested–and probably much more.”

4. It is inclusive and non-discriminatory.
This is because the tests ensure content is equivalent for all students. Arguing that using alternate tests for children from minority groups or exempting those with disabilities would be unfair to such students, former Washington DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee says, “You can’t separate them, and to try to do so creates two, unequal systems, one with accountability and one without it. This is a civil rights issue.”

5. It is approved by most parents.
A research poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 75% of parents say that standardized testing is a solid measure of their children’s abilities, while 69% state that it is good for measuring a school’s quality. Most of these parents even say that tests should be utilized to identify areas where students need extra help.

6. It prevents stress on the part of the students.
According to the US Department of Education, “Although testing may be stressful for some students, testing is a normal and expected way of assessing what students have learned.” Also, study by the University of Arkansas found that a huge number of students do not exhibit stress, and even show a positive attitude towards standardized testing.

List of Cons of Standardized Testing

1. It measures only a small portion of what makes education meaningful.
According to the late Gerald W. Bracey, PhD and education researcher, there are certain qualities that standardized tests cannot measure, such as critical thinking, creativity, motivation, resilience, curiosity, persistence, reliability, endurance, empathy, enthusiasm, self-discipline, self-awareness, civic-mindedness, leadership, compassion, courage, sense of beauty, resourcefulness, honesty, sense of wonder and integrity.

2. It consumes more of instruction time for monotonous test preparation.
It has been observed that some schools allocate more than a 25% of the year’s instruction to test preparations, and others have imposed extra measures to avoid being shut down, such as daily two and a half hour preparation sessions and test practice on vacation days. At the Monterey High School in Lubbock, Texas, students were even prevented from discussing an anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks because they were too busy with preparing for the tests.

3. It is drastically narrowing the school curriculum.
The Center on Education Policy has reported that since 2001, almost half of school districts in the US had reduced the time spent on social studies, science and the arts by an average of 145 minutes each to focus on math and reading. And according to a 2007 survey of 1,250 government, civics and social studies instructors showed that three-quarters of those teaching current events less often cited the tests as the reason.

4. It is expensive.
Since the implementation of the NCLB, testing costs have increased and placed a burden on state education budgets. The Texas Education Agency revealed that the state spent USD9 million in 2003 to test students, while the cost to the state’s taxpayers from 2009 to 2012 had been projected to be around USD88 million every year.

5. It is inadequate as an educational evaluation tool.
The multiple-choice format that is used on standardized testing is seen as an insufficient tool for assessment, and instead, encourages a simplistic way of thinking, where there are only correct and wrong answers that do not seem to be applicable in real-world situations. Also, such a format is biased towards male students, who are found to adapt more easily to the game-like point scoring of multiple-choice questions.

6. It could prevent children to prepare for a productive adult life.
Standardized testing, especially if done excessively, might teach children to be good at taking tests, but it does not prepare them for a productive adult life. A good example of this is China displacing Finland at the top of the 2009 PISA rankings because, as explained by Deputy Principal of Peking University High School Jiang Xueqin, “Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests. For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.” Now, China is trying to depart from the drill-and-kill test preparation, which has only produced “competent mediocrity, as Chinese educators admitted.

Final Thought

The key to the success of standardized testing is balance, which means that people who are in charge should step back and consider both the good and the bad sides of such a program. This way, they will find a way to help students succeed without being too stressed out.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.