Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Is The Role Of Standardized Testing In Education?

Fighting through Twitter lag, search problems and downtime, the Tuesday evening edition of edchat pressed on. The topic this week: What is the role of standardized testing in education. With states under constant pressure from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and other mandates to assess student progress, there is a push from some educators to eliminate testing all together, arguing that testing works against students and creates classrooms where all teachers do is "teach to the test." What did participants think? Here are some responses?
  • What I learned tonight is that there is value to having both portfolios and standardized tests. A balanced approach to assessment allows our students to show learning gains in more than one way.
  • Testing has its advantages as well as disadvantages. I am upset that administrators do not allow teachers to be creative and teach what they want. All their efforts have to be for the standardized tests.
  • We need to realize a set of national standards that students should be able to achieve, but we also need to develop teaching methods that allow students to develop curiosity, learn at their own pace and learn info management skills that will follow them throughout life.
  • I believe that our curriculum is being dictated to us by the businesses that create the standardized tests. Think about all the money being made by not only the test creators but the textbook companies that change their books that we have to buy whenever "standards" are changed!! Does this test provide students with any skills that they will be able to transfer to real world situations? We don't even color in bubbles to take our driving test... it's done on computer!! THEN, there's the poor kiddos that aren't good test takers. They see that clock ticking and lock up! Many times these are the "perfectionist" kids that obviously know the material - but shut down in high anxiety situations.
  • Standardized testing in education is not going to go away. However, to teach to the test does a disservice to all students. Teaching student to think critically will prepare them for the test better than expecting them to memorize information that is meaningless to them. Establishing an classroom that promotes project based learning will create an environment for students in which critical thinking skills are emphasized, thus producing students who cannot only think, but will do well on standardized tests.
  • I think standardized testing is a useful and necessary part of assessing student knowledge in the same way that doing a mammogram is key to understanding your health (if you're a woman). Tests that are created for specific purposes and clearly articulated in intent to teachers will not soak up valuable classroom time and can serve as wonderful tools for helping students.
There were a few things that jumped out at me. First, there are those in education, teachers and administrators, that believe testing is, and should continue to be a part of our educational culture. It is a "necessary evil" as one participant noted. I would have to agree. While I am a firm believer standardized test are not the answer to making education better, they are necessary to see how students, schools and districts are growing (or not) over a period of time.

I do believe, as do some others that participated do also, that districts and states rely too much on a singular test to determine student success. We prepare students for 90% of the school year for 5 days that determine how much they have learned. This is where the "teaching to the test" comment comes up over and over. Schools and districts place so much emphasis on these tests over these 5 days. What exactly are we teaching our students?

There is the argument that good teachers don't worry about the tests and their kids do just fine. I agree, to a point. There is still, looming over the heads of teachers, good or not, these standardized tests. I truly believe that if less emphasis was placed on them, good teaching would be come great teaching.

One alternative to testing most agreed on was portfolios. Even if we can not eliminate testing (which I don't think we should do) there should be other, authentic means of which we evaluate student progress and growth. A portfolio that shows samples of work from the student could easily be used. The test would just become one part of growth process.

There is no easy answer to the testing debate. I do believe, however, we would all agree that reforms need to be made and conversations need to be started. We can not continue to evaluate our students with a singular test.

What do you think? How do you feel about standardized testing. Is it true that it is a "necessary evil?" Are there methods other than portfolios that are an alternative? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Remember to join us on Twitter every Tuesday at 7pm EST. Shelly, one of the fabulous organizers of edchat, created a great screen cast on how to follow the chat using Tweetdeck. You can also vote for which topic to talk about every Monday.

Image from Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.


  1. Terrific post. Lots to think about here.

    My approach to standardized testing is always one of empowerment. That is, the tests should only serve to empower, enlighten, and entertain. These are some points that I try to keep in mind and tell my students about

    1. If the test is worth its snuff, results will show improvements in learning, so if your language skills improve (as I am an ESL teacher), then your scores will go up. That's what we're here for anyway, being better language users.
    2. Standardized tests can't test everthing; they all have limited ranges of assessment. Find out what those limits are and use those skills to boost your language skills. For example, the TOEIC test (often used in Japan for various purposes) focuses almost entirely on reading and listening. So if they are enjoying extensive listening and reading their scores will improve naturally.
    3. Test effect and backwash are good reasons to take the tests as often as possible. ETS reports up to 10% improvements just as a result of having taken the test before.
    4. Take the test for the first time as early in your studies as possible, before you know anything, and set this as a benchmark. Then after a little study, take it again. Your scores will improve. Keep doing that periodically, and if you are getting the input and interacting with others (in my case with English) then your scores will improve. Improvement leads to improvement, and that is a lot of fun.
    5. Stay positive. The evidence is in. A positive mental attitude is always better then a negative one. Some may say, "Positive is fine, but being realistic is more important." In some real world situations it may be, but I think we can all agree that standardized testing is hardly real world, and imagining "can't" senarios isn't helpful for anyone. It's all "can" all the time.

  2. I have traveled across a spectrum of thought on standardized testing since I began my career. As a novice I imitated the somewhat jaded, this-too-shall-pass attitudes of my colleagues. Next I embraced standardized testing for the data it gave me in rehtinking instruction. Now I struggle with it almost entirely. I very much want to prepare my students to do well so they feel successful. I very much want to prepare students to do well because that feels like part of my job. Regardless, I worry about the monopolization of standards and testing products and services, as well as the allotment of national resources only to states participating in that monopoly. I also worry from a PR angle that national standards and continued national, standardized testing will further diminish the public's opinion of teachers. How can we be viewed as competent professionals with specialities when evaluated on general measures? How can we be trusted to know what and how to teach locally, in our rooms, if national standards and state tests are necessary? When will we ever be trained in ed schools to create valid classroom assessments if all the "important" assessments come from people who "know better?" I'm willing to work to find ways to teach past the tests to foster success and achievement for all on the tests, but I'm not willing to stop envisioning a world that trusts local educators and empowers them to build curricula around students' passions and community service instead of quashing those interests and burying opportunities for service under the pressure and curriculum of testing.

  3. Standardized tests minimally impact instruction. Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Some teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because these teachers exclusively focus on grade-level standards-based instruction or believe that remediation is (or was) the job of some other teacher. To be honest, some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because the data might induce them to differentiate instruction—a daunting task for any teacher. And some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because they fear that the data will be used by administrators to hold them accountable for individual student progress. Check out ten criteria for effective diagnostic ELA/reading assessments at and download free whole-class comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessments, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment from the right column of this informative article.

  4. thought provoking blog,Technology is constantly changing. The W.W.W. has now evolved into “Web 2.0” and is the second wave of the World Wide Web.As parents how evolved are we in terms of incorporating technology with the curriculum? In an era of global connectivity parents should be actively involved to make the children aware of the right use of the digital tools available and how effectively they can be used for learning purposes.Such learning methodologies creates a sense of “self directed” learning and problem solving attitude among children.