The Problem of Standardized Testing
Over 70 years ago, standardized testing was introduced into the education system as a metric for measuring students’ progress. The tests are designed to measure certain levels of knowledge in important subjects, and the test scores show trends over long periods of time; the objective being to show areas that are succeeding and those which need improvement.
All these decades later, however, the American education system has largely forgotten the purpose of the testing, and the system focuses so much on standardized test scores that "real" education — actual learning and internalizing of important material — is suffering.
In his book, "The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better," author Daniel Koretz asserts that high-stakes testing has not improved education, but has actually degraded instruction, led to widespread gaming and cheating, and artificially inflated scores. He discusses his claim in the attached video.
People have learned how to coach for the specific test for which they're held accountable, and we've known now for a long time that this produces gains that are far, far larger than they ought to be, and that in turn allows people to say, well, what we're doing works.
This is not isolated to one school, district, or state. It’s ubiquitous, and can be witnessed in almost every school in the country. Teachers are prepping their students for the standardized test and not so much for real-life situations, which are far different than the controlled environments of these test situations.
My favorite summary of that was an eighth grade teacher in Massachusetts who said, "Why would I teach irregular polygons?" She didn't mean that they were unimportant, she just meant she'd never seen one on the state test so she didn't bother teaching them anymore.
Koretz explains why this causes tremendous problems for students later in life.
A simple example is telling kids if a problem is going to be multiple choice, don't bother trying to solve the problem, just plug in answers and see what works. Well, when they get out of school no one's going to give them answers to plug in. Those strategies sometimes are very sophisticated, but that's a simple example …
So, I'll give you an example. It would be relevant if you were ever to hire a carpenter to build you a roof. It's a technical detail, but that's how these things work. When you write a test item about the Pythagorean theorem, there's a problem. Kids are not taught how to calculate square roots.
So what do you do? Well, if there's no calculator portion of the test, you have to make it a simple integer solution. Like, 3, 4, 5. So Princeton Review simply told kids in Massachusetts, "Memorize 3, 4, 5. The solution is 3,4,5 or any multiple of 3,4,5."
And if you ask teachers whether they do that, they say, yeah. Well, what happens if you hire a carpenter who actually has to figure out the dimensions of a roof? It's gonna fall down.
So why is there so much emphasis on these standardized tests? The answer, according to Koretz, is found in the incentives for teachers, which are based on test scores, sometimes almost exclusively. Additionally, teachers are often expected to achieve results that are simply unachievable without some sort of inflation.
How to stop the trend? Try changing incentives.
One of the solutions is to dial back the pressure, to set targets that are realistic, and second, there are many steps to be taken, to actually look at what's happening in schools.
If principals had an incentive to go in and look at how teachers are raising test scores and say to them, 'I don't want you doing this kind of coaching, I want real math instruction,' then things would be different. But principals have the same incentive, superintendents have the same incentive, everybody wants scores to go up and they don't care how.
A more holistic approach to the issue is necessary, and that doesn't mean getting rid of standardized testing, which is effective in helping shed light on comparative performance.
However, using tests the way they were originally intended — in order to determine where kids aren't getting the education they need — is an instructive tool for figuring out how to come prepared with techniques that help teachers readjust their methods so they can better adapt for different learning methods by students.
What are your thoughts on this subject? What are some other ways to improve the standardized test system? Share your thoughts with us!