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The Question of Standardized Tests

April 1, 2016

When thinking of standardized testing, the first thing people focus on are the academic advantages. Standardized testing is used to benchmark student’s progress, teacher’s success, and the school’s overall achievements. Standardized testing allows administrators to see why a student might be struggling, doing well, or making progress in classrooms across the state and even broader, throughout the United States.

In my opinion, standardized testing does not significantly help or hurt Americans. It does mask the real problems and perpetuates the issues further. What does standardized testing tell administrators, teachers, parents and students that we do not already know?  It is no coincidence that the same schools failing standardized tests are the same schools with academic, behavior, funding, and/or violence issues.

Let’s break it down a step further. A wealthy community pays higher taxes. Schools are funded through those district taxes. The more money received from taxes, the more put into school funding for resources, qualified staff, building renovations, and even food. Schools that have to make budget cuts, fire staff, get rid of programs, and overpopulate the classrooms are the same schools in poverty stricken, high crime, and highly populated areas. 

A student in an inner-city, overpopulated district like Compton is not going to perform as well as a student in a Princeton school. That Compton student has a significantly less chance of passing all of the subjects in standardized testing. Without looking at test results, I can tell you that myself. Yes, on a smaller scale standardized testing tells us whether improvements are being made, subjects that students are struggling with, and the schools cumulative success. However does it really tell us if the Princeton teacher teaching students from two parent, six figure incomes is better than the one who is teaching Compton students who may have one parent in jail, one dead or gone and living on welfare with a grandparent?

With everything there are always exceptions. There are definitely unqualified, inadequate teachers out there. Just like there may be students growing up in a good situation that just struggles academically or on the other hand, a student who has all the odds against them, but still manages to graduate and pass standardized tests. 

Regardless the exceptions, I cannot help but wonder if the emphasis on standardized testing is only expanding the education gap. Firstly, standardized tests are structured to favor Caucasian males. Therefore minorities and women are already at a disadvantage from the start. In addition, the tests are completely unfair to non-native English speakers and special needs students. Special education students and students whose second language is English may need accommodations such as translations or more time. This is not given to these students, putting them at a bigger disadvantage from the start. 

In addition, testing is required for things like college admittance and scholarships. These are things that all students need, but is not available to everyone. Failing schools receive less funding which forces them to cut programs that failing students need. Most of the students at failing schools in low-income communities do not have the opportunity to participate in activities out of school such as SAT preparation classes, music classes, art classes, tutoring, and summer classes. Therefore the students who need the most help preparing for standardized tests may not be financially able or even have the transportation and time to get to these types of courses. 

Standardized testing is required for all students, but not all students have the same fair chance to prepare for it. As a result, the students that receive higher scores and GPA’s are continuing their education in college. I won’t even get into the breakdown of the level of colleges from Ivy League to Community College and the gap in that, but I will look at it on a broader scale.

That Compton student I referred to earlier, needs an education so they do not continue the urban cycle as an uneducated dropout parent. They need an education to have a chance at a job and a different life from the one their parents live. However, that student is less likely to go to college, if they even graduate middle school and high school. Therefore standardized testing just creates another barrier to keep students who need an education and the opportunities that come with it, from being able to reach them. 

Finally, we are putting in all these benchmarks to “measure” students and improve the American education. However, all students do not start at the same point upon entering kindergarten and as the years go on they do not all have the same opportunities. Standardized testing further perpetuates that gap and is just a reminder that certain demographics have bigger steps to climb than the more privileged students. And for what? It is no secret that if you remove the disadvantaged students of lower socioeconomic classes, the United States ranks in the top 10 internationally across subjects. However, as a whole we are very behind. “After No Child Left Behind (NCLB) passed in 2002, the US slipped from 18th in the world in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading”(Standardized Tests-ProCon.org 2015). 

Standardized testing does not drastically hurt or help students, but it is a topic administrators use to act like they are implementing big beneficial reforms. The biggest problem- the poverty gap in America is disgusting and insulting. The top 1% of the American population holds 40% of America’s wealth(Jiliani 2011). How does Standardized testing account for that issue? It does not. It acts as if all students have a fair chance to pass, which is not even remotely true.

“A May 2011, National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working” (Standardized Tests-ProCon.org 2015).My answer, take standardized testing with a grain of salt. Teachers are teaching to the test and schools are cutting programs just to pass the test. How does the short term benefit of “passing” help in the long term for the disadvantaged? Stop creating more ways to kick the disadvantaged while they are down and remind them they are not good enough. Focus more on graduation rates, drop-out rates, and college admittance. Provide all students with test preparation classes, extracurricular activities, qualified teachers, and programs to keep them in school and off the streets.  
RPW

References

Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, 2010

Standardized Tests - ProCon.org. (2015, April 1). Retrieved June 4, 2015.

Jilani, Z. (2011, October 3). How Unequal We Are: The Top 5 Facts You Should Know About The Wealthiest One Percent Of Americans. Retrieved June 4, 2015.

 

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