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So what’s the controversy surrounding standardized testing?
In America, various forms of standardized testing ranging from the SATs to the ACTs have been mandated by the education system as a basis for judging a student’s intellectual capacity in a specific area. However, are these forms of testing really that effective in judging a student’s intelligence, or are they simply an indicator of how much information a student can cram in a short period of time before the exam?
The evolution of standardized testing
In the early 1800’s, educators were accustomed to giving oral exams to students. Quickly, it became apparent to the education reform that this was a flawed way to test intelligence; it was simply a matter of letting the brightest students shine in front of their peers as well as exalting educators in a hyperbolic way. However, after the industrial revolution, in 1845, a well-respected educational reformer named Horace Mann decided that it was time for a change. Instead of glorifying certain students over others, perhaps written exams would provide a better means for testing intelligence in a way that allows all students to have an equal opportunity. Mann hoped to be able to compare and contrast the quality of education being taught to students in different schools, as well as being able to determine which students are capable of progressing to the next academic level. With the advancement in technology and the introduction of the scantron card, standardized written exams were also becoming increasingly popular as a way to test large masses of students at a time. Standardized testing in America has been a symbolic way of showing America’s commitment to ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to education, by moving from a mission to servicing the elites to educating the masses.
How has standardized testing changed the education system?
With the introduction of standardized testing, it is now possible to compare how students are doing academically relative to their peers, as well as comparing the collective scores of different provinces or states. Educators now have a benchmark in knowing what material to teach their students in preparation for the exams, and it can possibly improve educator performance due to fear of not performing up to par with other teachers/professors. There is also an elimination of bias when grading the exams because the standardized tests are usually marked by computers or individuals who do not know the student directly. Thus, this provides a more accurate measure in determining student performance as opposed to a student’s teacher marking his or her own student’s exam. There is also a higher probability of improved education quality because of the government’s access to students’ test scores; lower scores could result in the government taking action on improving the areas in which students are lacking. Most individuals, especially parents, want to see if their tax-payer money is improving the quality of life of their children, whether it is through education, healthcare, and other important services. Standardized testing can give parents valuable information about whether their student is performing well, which could indicate a higher quality of learning.
So what’s the controversy surrounding standardized testing?
What exactly do test scores mean? Do they signal a student’s true intellectual capacity, or do they signal late night cramming (or lack of it)? When attempting to resolve the true meaning of what it means to be intelligent, we cannot simply base it off of test scores, because of both the subjectivity of intelligence as well as external factors that we cannot control. Let’s illustrate this with an example: If we consider a brilliant student who is an excellent problem solver and critical thinker, but could not study well for the SATs due to a combination of stress and family problems, one would expect that student to do poorly relative to an average student who spent thousands of dollars on test preparation. If both students applied to the same college, which applicant do you think the college is more likely to accept, holding all other factors constant? Many parents consider their child’s academic performance in standardized tests to be an indicator of success—this also applies to me personally. However, by only testing skills that relate to math, comprehension, and literacy, we have a skewed measure of success. Standardized tests do not provide any information regarding a student’s critical thinking, collaboration skills, or social skills, which collectively provide a more accurate representation of success.
“What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.” – Arthur Costa (Professor at California State University)
Is standardized testing here to stay?
When considering the business side of things, it seems extremely likely that standardized testing is here to stay, whether you like it or not. The fact is, the test preparation industry is extremely lucrative. The main dominators of the test publisher market include Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Harcourt. Before standardized testing was introduced, the test industry was valued at around $7 million. To this day, the industry is valued anywhere from $400 million to $700 million. Even when you consider inflation, the valuation today is still a huge increase. When considering how much students spend on preparing for standardized tests, the private tutoring market is valued to be $78.2 billion dollars! Standardized testing acts as a good benchmark for educators in assessing how their students are doing academically compared to other schools. When used effectively and sparingly, it can provide an accurate indicator of knowledge in a specific area. However, it should not be used as a basis for determining a student’s future, whether it is getting accepted to the college of their dreams or moving up a grade level. To me, success is determined by hard work, ambition, and constantly striving to be a better version of yourself. It is not based on a grade written on a piece of paper.
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