What’s Wrong with $tandardized Testing part I


“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and
to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of
true education.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the title implies I am very much against standardized testing.  I will elaborate on those in a few moments but first I want to address the purpose of standardized testing. Many will argue it is an accurate way to measure the progress of student, teacher and school.  I disagree, these things do need to be monitored but this is not the best way to do this.  The purpose of standardized testing is, at best, to make money, or at worse fail schools under NCLB so we can privatize them.   Testing is a big business. Corporations, not the Department of Education, write, manufacture and score standardized tests.  They charge exorbitant amounts to schools for the right to administer their test, the corporation does not do the actual administering. Then these same corporations sell, to the schools that have just taken the test, sell to educators and parents teaching materials designed to raise scores on the tests they manufacture. With this in mind where is the incentive to create a fair test? If they created a test that the majority of people would do well on, they would lose out on the revenue for their ancillary products. It is their best interest to keep the tests confusing and harder than necessary. If you had a revenue stream worth millions wouldn’t you do what was required to keep it flowing? Many people favor, including corporations that write the tests, the failure of public schools. Why? So schools can be privatized for profits. If a school fails tax payer money (in the world the corporations envision) will pay for the privatization, maximizing their profits. There are a lot of motives behind standardized testing that have nothing to do with education.

Next, let us look at the validity of the tests themselves. The first thing to notice is that most of the questions are multiple choice.  The biggest flaw of multiple choice questions are that students do not generate the response on their own, instead they have to choose from a select group of pre-provided answers. The student then just has to pick one of five answers that he or she recognizes.  Students are not given a chance to explain their reasoning.   Other operations such as constructing an argument or organizing information are almost impossible to test on a multiple choice test; in other words, standardized tests do not measure cognitive reasoning or problem solving skills.

The second problem with the validity of the tests is the way the tests themselves are given. First they are timed. This means the emphasis is placed on speed not thoughtfulness or thoroughness. With very few exceptions, this is not how things work in the real world that people claim these tests are preparing students for.  Next they are given to individuals. Again, with very few exceptions, are problems in the real world not discussed and solved by groups. Many businesses, including those that write the tests, value teamwork yet seek to deprive it in our schools. The bottom line is the tests are telling students what we value is the ability to do things fast, with little thought and with no input from anyone else.

Then we come to the scoring. The scoring is done quickly in a machine for the multiple choice, again that is most of the exam.  We all know that machines are not perfect yet the test manufacturers and the school systems act like they are. The most egregious example of this I could find was in New York in 1999 when close to 9,000 students were ordered to take remedial summer school because of their test scores. The only problem was that the test scores were fine. The grading machine made an error. The tests that do have open answer or short essay are graded quickly with little or no criteria.  The raters are told give them a number on how well you think the student answered the question, there is little to no rubric in some cases in others there is too much. A student could have answered the question perfectly but get severe deductions if they used a semi-colon wrong.  These raters are frequently given bonuses for how fast they can rate the test, so there is little incentive to really look at a student’s answer but to just assigned a numeric value and move on to the next one. The other problem with scoring is that there is no national criteria, yet scores are compared nationally. For example what is a failing score in Wisconsin may be a passing score in Florida. So, on paper that Florida student may look better than the failing Wisconsin student but they are, in fact, equal. Even locally, the numbers are meaningless because a hefty part of the difference can be attributed to socialeconomic factors, not school or student performance.

Part II Testing and School Climate.

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