Standardized Tests — Good or Bad?

I guess I may have a bias where it comes to standardized testing. It may be the reason most of my seven sons have never taken a standardized test at all. The oldest ones did, when I was a new homeschooler and lacked confidence, but it still went against my principles. My younger children have never even seen a standardized test.

Why am I so skeptical of these tests that our education gurus seem to think are the answer to our broken education system? It’s because of an experience I had in college. Yes, that was several decades ago and I’m still not happy about it.

My last semester of college I was carrying a 3.8-grade average. I was almost finished and happy with my accomplishments. I was studying to be a special education teacher and during my last semester, I was required to take a course on utilizing standardized tests in the classroom.  The class was rather boring at best. All about statistics and numbers and correlations. I knew I wasn’t doing well. I had a hard time understanding the purpose of all that information. I was training to teach children who already had disabilities and had trouble learning. What good was this talk about tests anyway? My students would likely never do well on any sort of test.

I knew my grade in the class was hovering around a C. If I earned a C it would be the lowest grade I’d received in my four years of college and in my very last semester…and in a course that didn’t seem to be helpful. Then the final day of class arrived. We sat and listened to the professor sum up what he’d been teaching us in the preceding weeks. His final comment?  “Test results are not reliable.”  What?? You mean to tell me I got my lowest grade (Yes, I got a C) in a class that I worked hard to convince myself was of value and now you tell me everything I learned isn’t really that useful anyway?

So if the results aren’t reliable, why do we spend so much precious learning time teaching students how to pass the tests? I hear you saying, “Yes, but your experience was 30+ years ago. Things have changed.” But have they changed for the better? I don’t think so. I think classroom teachers, as well as some homeschool teachers, spend so much time teaching to the test that they miss the opportunity to instill a love of learning in their students.

And I think that the test results are more likely testing whether the child ate breakfast or slept well. Or whether they had a fight with their sibling or forgot their lunch. It might also test the tension in the home. Are the parents fighting, are the cupboards empty, or is someone in the family sick? All those things are reflected in the test scores as well as the level of anxiety of the student with regards to testing in general. In 2002 it was reported that the Stanford-9 test came with instructions on what to do if a child vomited on the test booklet since there were so many children suffering from test anxiety. Is this the best way to see what a child has learned?

All students learn differently. It never made sense to me that you could design one test that could accurately assess all those learning avenues at the same time. It isn’t even logical. I’ve never used exactly the same plan twice. My boys have all done their schooling in their own unique way, using different materials and different methods. It was about what worked for them and not about how they measured up with each other or with the zillions of other students all taking the same test.

So there’s my bias. But I won’t attempt to force you to agree with me. Here is an excellent website that does a great job of giving you well thought out pros and cons on the subject of standardized tests. Read through it and decide for yourself. And then come back and leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think.