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The Dangers of Standardized Assessment Tests

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas

The Dangers of Standardized Assessments: What Do they Really Tell Us?In my previous blog, I took a look at the new standardized testing coming soon to a school near you- the  Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC.  While I realize this is not a popular topic, it is a frustration we all share-  more standardized assessment tests. With the new testing, there is also the added concern of making sure students are adept at computer skills and ready to tackle critical thinking questions.

After doing a little reading and talking with several other teachers, I can't help but wonder if standardized assessment tests are the best way to assess our students. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we should not formally or informally assess students, absolutely we should! I just have a few concerns with standardized tests.

Do the standardized tests accurately measure student ability?

I don't think so. When given standardized tests, students answer the same questions under the same conditions, usually in multiple-choice format. We all know the drill. We separate the desks, hand out the #2 pencils and scrap paper, remind students to work quietly, read directions, and set timer if necessary.

Student scores vary due to testing conditions or their mental or emotional state. Was the student hungry? Did he/she receive a good night's sleep? Were they distracted by the silence in the room (some students need a little background noise)? Do they suffer from test anxiety? Are they rushing to complete so they can read or draw? All these factors have to be considered when looking at the results of student testing. I have seen students who score well everyday do poorly on the standardized test. What does this indicate?

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Does the time in which the test is given the best time?

Most schools administer the standardized tests in March. This allows teachers six months (assuming there are limited interruptions) to teach all material needed to score well. I have discovered that even with six months, there are many areas on the tests that have not been covered and will not be covered during the school year.  Which leads me to question another noticeable disadvantage.

Is the test standard in the content of the questions?

One year my students prepared for the test in early March. Before administering the test, I was previewing the questions in the student booklet. Since the test is created by various institutions using a number of curriculum, it is possible for questions to appear that may be taught in one school but not another. My class was not exposed to civics or a specific content area in science. There was no way for me to prepare them for these type of questions. When they came across these questions, my students began to panic.  They felt the test was unfair.

I don't want to “teach to the test” but I also don't want my students feeling ambushed. Students should feel competent. If material they have never seen is suddenly appearing on a test, students will start to feel unprepared and defeated. Students may shut down completely. This of course will affect the overall score. I like to think of it as teaching our students how to change a tire. We successfully do this, but then we hand them parts of a car and ask them to rebuild from the ground up. Sounds a little unfair.

Are the results of the tests helpful to teachers?

Again I don't think so. The test results indicate a possible weakness in a specific area of study but it does not help teachers understand what the student was thinking as he/she processed the question or how he/she worked through the problem. The information from the test does not indicate what is working and what is not in the classroom, nor does it inform on how the student learns best. Should there be more cooperative learning, more informal assessments, more creative learning, differentiated learning, etc.?

These standardized tests put unneeded pressure on a teacher to have her class score well without giving consideration to the various reading levels, behavioral challenges, learning disabilities, or time constraints that make up the classroom. It is also unfortunate that administrators use the results of the test as an indicator of the teacher's ability to teach. It is incredibly sad that several teachers within my state (including a principal) decided to “doctor” the scores to ensure continued funding for their school. Has the pressure gotten so bad that teachers are risking their careers to save their career? Makes no sense.

Are other methods better at assessing?

I am sure there are advantages and disadvantages to all forms of assessment. No one method has been perfected, but I believe assessment should take place daily, not once a year. There are many methods to assessing our students. To name just a few, observation, documentation of  student work, performance based, running records of student reading/math skills,  rubric scores, journaling, and oral presentations.

 I wish I knew the best solution to the standardized assessment dilemma. It certainly would prevent unwanted stress and allow me to do what I really want to do which is just teach!

What are your thoughts about standardized testing and the new testing methods?