Short Paper 1
Proponents say that standardized tests are a fair and objective measure of student achievement and overall are good for society, ensuring that teachers and schools are accountable to taxpayers. In a perfect world, they are absolutely correct. Standardized tests can measure to what extent students have learned the material in one particular school or class and compare it to many others taking the same test, showing where they fall relative to the average. Schools below the average could then be held accountable for not successfully teaching the material, and hopefully use those results to improve. Additionally, having standardized tests could pressure students to put more effort into the class, causing them to gain more from those classes. However, our world is far from perfect—especially when it comes to standardized tests. Standardized tests can cause a variety of problems in classes that affect quality of learning. Test scores can also be manipulated in many ways, bringing into question the value of the scores—and standardized tests as a whole.
A common complaint against standardized tests is that they often cause teachers to teach for the test, rather than fully teaching the material. Teachers are afraid of their students receiving low test scores, which would reflect poorly on themselves. To avoid this, they might only teach topics as they would appear on the test, rather than how they can be applied to students lives. The result is higher test scores, but students who are unprepared to use what they learn from their classes. In the same vein, standardized tests cause students to learn only for the sake of the tests, resulting in a lack of legitimate interest on the part of students. Students learn the material specifically for the test—after the test is taken there is no motivation to continue learning.
Aside from the classroom problems caused by standardized tests, other issues can result from scores being manipulated in a variety of ways. One such way is teachers helping students cheat on the tests—either by giving away answers during the test, or by simply reporting false grades. Teachers and students are not the only stakeholders that can manipulate test scores, though. The makers of the standardized tests—in many cases a government—can make the tests easier, giving the illusion that schools, teachers, and students are doing better. However, in reality, the tests only show that students know the material on the most basic level. This is especially a problem if the teachers are teaching—and students are learning—only for the tests, which as mentioned earlier, may occur frequently due to pressures on both the teachers and the students caused by the tests.
Overall, standardized tests bring about far more problems than they seek to solve. By creating and putting additional pressures on governments, teachers, and students, they can lower the same standards of learning they promise to raise. Worse, they can create the illusion of increased success, making improvement seem unnecessary. Proponents would say that in spite these issues, standardized testing is still necessary, as it is the best method we can use to hold schools and teachers accountable to taxpayers. Critics would say that we are better off without a system of standardized tests that actually lowers the quality of learning.