Top 10 Arguments that Support Standardized Testing
Education is one of the foremost aspects of society, and is largely tied to our development as a nation. With the dynamism we see in the globalised systems of our modern world, it is clear that a good educational system is critical to how competitive a nation can be. One of the most common tools used in education is that of standardized testing. In the American education system, this method has featured heavily since the mid-1800s. In fact, beginning 2002, a bill called the NCLB or No Child Left Behind mandated yearly tests throughout each state, and the use of standardized tests skyrocketed after that period.
Despite this, there has been a distinct decline in the performance of US students relative to their counterparts throughout the world. In 2000, the US took the 18th spot in the world for mathematics, and slipped down to the 31st place in 2009. Similar trends can be observed for other subjects as well. Because of this, much attention has begun to be focused on the failures of the education system, and the variables that affect it, like poverty levels, teacher quality, and the incentivization of education. Because of the high-stakes nature of achievement tests in many cases, the topic has been subject to much controversy.
Proponents of standardized tests argue that this is simply a method, and if used properly, it can bring about great results in the education system of the United States. Here, we bring you the top 10 reasons that support standardized testing.
10) Provides Accountability
One of the most common arguments in support for standardized testing is that it provides a strong and clear measure of accountability. The No Child Left Behind bill aims to reform education with accountability as one of its goals, in fact. The bill seeks to create better academic standards by making each state more responsible for the results (particularly the aggregation of school results). When one seeks to provide a measure of accountability, standardization becomes critical. The use of standardized tests allows regulatory boards and stakeholders to measure performance across schools and across states. This gives parents a more informed set of options, allowing them to make better decisions when it comes to the education of their children. Standardized testing makes each school and educator more accountable for the way they teach their students. Knowing that there is a metric upon which their performance is reviewed is more likely to make them strive to teach better. The same is true for students. Having a clearly quantifiable method of measuring performance helps students be more responsible for their schooling.
9) Reliable Measure And Sustainable Gains
In an educational context, standardized examinations are a great metric for facilitating the measurement of school system performance. Because they are objective in the sense that performance is judged to a standard (test scores), they equalize across all different kinds of schools and populations. While many argue that this is also where the limitation of a standardized examination lies, nobody can refute the fact that multiple choice exams (graded often by machine) are less prone to human bias or error. Also, those who form educational policy are assured that the educators whose performance and reputation are often staked on the results of their students do not tamper with results or inflate grades to achieve better status. Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company published in 2010 that twenty schools that have shown “significant, sustained, and widespread gains” made use of similar targets and standardized examinations regularly as part of their curriculum.
8) Non-Discriminatory And Inclusive Examination Style
Because the content and method by which the exams are administered is the same for each student, standardized tests are a non-discriminatory way of testing different kinds of students. Professors are expected to ensure that the exams they release sufficiently test the content covered in lessons in a succinct and unbiased manner and the results will reflect this. Many of those in favor of standardized testing or those who believe that it is a valid and effective educational tool argue that these tests further equality among students because of their objective nature. Michelle Rhee, a former school chancellor in Washington DC agrees, saying that a separate examination for minorities or students with disabilities defeats the point of education, removing the accountability from educators who give exemptions such as these. There is a fair amount of validity to this point simply because of the sheer diversity of student populations. It would be virtually impossible to assume that every student body will be composed of the same type of person. These students will reflect different backgrounds, learning styles, and so many other variables impossible to quantify. What one student easily excels at could be the Achilles heel of another. Giving a standard test covering the basics of each subject effectively eliminates student bias and equalizes the playing field for each student.
7) Standardized Examinations Are A Good Platform For Achievement In Today’s Dynamic World (See: China)
There is no denying the tremendous levels of connectivity, dynamism and competition in our world today. The geographical boundaries that have constrained our society for so long are slowly being whittled away by the leaps and bounds that technology has made. Today’s technology allows us to converse, receive real time updates and even share snapshots of our lives- all with people who are possibly on the other side of the world. As such, truly participating in today’s society means competing and adapting to the standards of the whole world. Of course, these changes have greatly increased the pressure and challenges that people (especially young students) face on a daily basis. However, it has also immensely expanded the horizon for achievement. China is a great example of this. With their long tradition of utilizing standardized tests and their cultural emphasis on excellence, they have led the world in numerous achievements, especially when it comes to education. In 2009, China dislodged Finland as the long-standing champion of educational rank in the world. Shanghai showed the highest results for reading, math, and science scores. At the centre of their success is a solid foundation of standardized testing regimens. This clearly shows that standardized types of exams are a significant tool to furthering education. Before, students only had to compete with the best in their own school, village, or country. Now, we pit our rankings against each other on a worldwide basis, and that means utilizing the tools that the best countries in the world use as well. The fact that standardized exams are a major part of the educational regimen of the educational leaders of the world goes to show that they are one of the tools all schools can use to better their teaching process.
6) Eliminates Time-Wasting Activities
While many detractors of standardized examinations argue that it degrades education and incentivizes “teaching to the test”, those who fall in the pro-camp argue that this can be beneficial. Teaching to the test is the behavior exhibited by professors when they teach lessons in a manner solely focused on what will appear in the exam. This is an undesirable behavior of course, because we want our educational systems to give students a well-rounded education with solid foundations. Teaching to the test, if handled improperly, can make students take their education for granted, and in some cases disillusioned towards learning. However, standardized exams can be implemented properly to avoid this kind of behavior. Or, if done properly so that teaching to the test still gives a thorough grounding in functional knowledge, students will pick up skills that they otherwise would never have experienced. Having to answer an objective test will require students to determine what the most relevant content is. This builds on their skills of decision making, time management and prioritization. Students who have all the time in the world to learn anything, or those who study such broad fields of scope have been found to have problems focusing, making decisions in short periods of time, and properly prioritizing to eliminate time wasting activities. These types of constraints also motivate students to give importance to knowledge that clearly benefits them. This will make them more competitive and far readier to face the tough world of the workforce than a lax education system.
5) Focuses On Useful Basic Skills and Allows For More Efficient Allocation Of Resources (E.G. Educational Funding, State Subsidy For Education, Etc.
Building on the previous point, standardized tests force educators and students alike to focus on basic skills that can truly be utilized. Instead of narrowing the curriculum like most detractors argue, standardized examinations pull the focus to concepts and skills that are critical to the development of a student, particularly gearing him towards practical frameworks that can be applied in the work force. We all have our various strengths and weaknesses, and this rings true in education. If improperly managed, this can easily cause an imbalance where students who are good at one thing gravitate towards that only, and never learn skills that they need, despite not being as inclined to these skills. Standardized exams force students to study parts of their lessons that they might not be as inclined to, giving them a more well-rounded perspective on learning and on life. It also helps them find methodical ways to work through problems they would otherwise shy away from, which will prove to be very helpful once they are in the workplace. The design of incentives for schools can be based partially upon the standardized-test performance of each school on a relative basis. For example, a state could choose to give more funding to schools who have shown distinct improvement based on these results. Or, it could help states pinpoint which schools need more help, with the test results serving as a litmus test as to performance. They could then determine whether these schools could perform better with more assistance.
Internally, each school can also use standardized testing to properly allocate their resources. If a certain department’s scores are significantly lower than that of the standard, then the teaching staff can be improved or learning programs can be designed to aid it. The main argument is that the amount of information provided by these standardized tests are significant enough to aid fair judgment when it comes to decisions on education. The information it provides promotes responsibility for all constituents involved (educational administrators, professors, students) in a clear, straightforward manner. Of course, the system is not perfect because there are a large number of factors to learning that cannot be quantified or standardized, but testing this way is an effective method of leveling the teaching platforms across states and improving the educational system.
4) Doesn’t Force Teachers To Encourage Drill n’Kill Rote Learning
The use of standardized tests does not necessarily encourage “Drill n’ Kill” rote learning, or simply learning what is expected to come out on the exam. This type of educational behavior comes about with flawed instructors, and in fact can be mitigated by the use of standardized exams and proper educational metrics. Professional and effective educators have a clear understanding of what their students must learn. For a class to be effective, a student must exit with a clearer understanding of the subject than when he first entered. This is definitely not achieved by simply teaching him the answers to possible test questions, because that will only result in clarity for the exam, not the subject. As such, principals and educational administrators also understand that they must sanction professors who attempt to teach to the test. This was confirmed by a study in the Educational Policy Analysis Archives in October of 2005. Research has shown us that these drills aren’t guaranteed success when it comes to exam results anyway, as they rely heavily on memorization instead of understanding. Having standardized exams allows educators and administrators to track student progress to see if they have really achieved this understanding. On the side of the teacher, it also helps administrators determine whether a professor has been coming up with consistent, realistic results, or has simply been manufacturing or attempting to teach to the test.
3) Swifter Goal Attainment Through Clearer Performance Tracking Methods
With any endeavour, it is far easier to grow when you have a set of quantifiable goals set out before you. In the course of attaining these goals, it is critical that you have a measure of tracking your progress. This allows you to determine whether you’ve achieved them or not, and what steps you must take in light of your status. The results from standardized tests will provide a clear method of tracking performance term to term. Regulators will clearly see if teachers and schools are improving or not. Also, standardized tests can allow for a set measure of performance that each educator must meet. This in turn leads to much better consistency and further promotes responsibility, both for educational administrators and the educators themselves. It also gives states a more accurate method for funding schools.
2) Prevents Social Promotion
“Social promotion” is what occurs when educators allow students to move on to the next grade even if they haven’t truly attained the levels required to pass the year. With standardized exams, students and professors alike now have a metric upon which to base performance, and expectations become much clearer. Students understand that if they don’t hit a specific grade based on their performance, they will not meet the requirements for advancement. Professors also have a clearer idea of where each student is struggling, and can do a more efficient and effective job as an educator to aid the student to get past the difficulty. Schools without quantitative metrics like standardized exams can easily just promote students through each grade to maintain their reputation or rate of performance. With a standard, objective metric like an exam, however, this can be easily avoided.
1) The Problem Isn’t The Test; It’s What They Do With The Results
Those who fall in the camp against standardized exams or testing in general quite often do not dismiss the validity of the exams themselves. In fact, many of the objections are targeted towards what is done with the results. The problem with the use of standardized exams is that these schools focus too much on it and forget that it is merely a tool. The best tools do not make the best schools, and we must remember that the power to educate is a huge responsibility. The information given by these tests are critical and can have numerous helpful applications, as we have discussed. Testing critic and New York University Professor of Education Diane Ravitch points it out fairly well, saying that tests that are valid and reliable can help to inform educational policy-makers regarding the educational system as a whole. Indeed, there are few other tools that provide as well rounded a set of information; these standardized tests simply have to be implemented properly. Too much focus on the test results will of course skew incentives. There must be a balance between tests and practical application, as well as a big emphasis on understanding instead of scoring.
Other countries such as Finland downplay the use of standardized tests and incentivized learning, and exhibit great results. We have mentioned countries like China, on the other hand, which have a highly competitive touch to their education system, also producing noteworthy results. Clearly, there are numerous approaches to education, and what works for one may not work for another. With the many variables that affect how one learns and eventually applies his/her skills, implementing a good educational system remains a significant challenge. However, we must all remember how critical education is to the future of every nation, and treat it with the respect and importance it deserves.