Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Standardize Test Dilemma

When I was in elementary school, we had standardized testing 2 times a year, in the fall and in the spring.  As a child I was a little nervous and somewhat stressed but never like the children today.  I still had the opportunity to learn Geography.  My teachers would pretend we were going on a trip and we would have to find where we were going on a map of the United States or a World Map.  We would have competitions with each other and could win a globe.  Science gave us chances to do experiments.  English exposed us to writing poetry, spelling bees, studying great writers and their works, recitations and so much more.  Standardized testing has swelled and mutated, like a creature in one of those old horror movies, to the point that it now threatens to swallow our schools whole (Kohn,A. 2000).
From the moment school starts in the fall of the year, teachers teach to the test!  They are familiar with what will be on the test and they live in fear that if their students don't do well, their jobs may be in jeopardy.  I can remember attending a conference and Barbara Bowman, who help found the Erikson Institute, and who has had a great impact in the Chicago school system told a story about standardized test.  She said a group of inner-city children were shown a boy riding a bike down a street with saddlebags full of newspapers in them.
The same picture was shown to children who lived in the suburbs.  When these children were asked if the boy riding the bike was working or playing, the inner-city children said playing.  The suburban children said working.  The correct answer was working.  Why did the inner-city children say playing?  Many of them didn't have a bike and they didn't see newspapers being delivered in their neighborhood, so they didn't see the connections of the papers in the saddlebags.  So who gets hurt by these practices?  Students from low-income and minority group backgrounds are more likely to be retained in grade, placed in a lower track, or put in special or remedial programs when it is not necessary (Retrieved from http:fairtest.org/facts/howharm.htm).  As an Education Specialist for Head Start, I accompanied a group of children, who were transitioning into Kindergarten, on a field trip to the neighborhood school they would be attending in the fall.  The children were placed in the various Kindergarten classrooms and the Principal pulled all of the Head Start staff, there, into his office.  He then went into this speech about how we were not preparing the children for school. "They come here and they don't know how to read, they want to just get up without raising their hands, they just blurt out answers, all they want to do is play and that is not what they are here to do."  I had to speak up at that moment and inform him that as important as academics are, we help develop the whole child.  When a child can function well socially, emotionally, physically, and academically, then we can feel assured that the child will be successful.  These are the things that should be assessed and measured when looking at the whole child.  We empower the children, we give them choices, they know how to make friends and to speak up for themselves and what was wrong with that?  He did not have an answer but my heart sank because I could see that our children were going to be regimented and/or labeled because they didn't conform to "Big School".
Our children are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalled anywhere else in the world (Kohn, A. 2000).  Tests are given more frequently and they play a prominent role in schooling (Kohn,A. 2000).  Children are so hyped up for tests now they have anxiety attacks.  My Niece, who was an "A" student would lose sleep before each State test.  She could not test well and almost had a major breakdown her Senior year because if she didn't pass the test, she would not be able to graduate.  She passed it but many of her friends did not, could not march with their class and had to take the test during the summer and if they passed it that time, their diploma would be mailed to them.  How humiliating and dehumanizing.
When looking at stadardized testing in other countries,“For example, schools in England have only two or three core subjects in the curriculum, whereas in Finnish schools there is more of a broad focus that includes the social arts, based on the belief that the success of individuals is not solely achieved through the instruction of only math and sciences. The whole education system in Finland, from kindergarten to Grade 12, has no high-stakes external testing system,” (Retrieved from http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=1843).  This only goes to tell us that Standardized-test scores often measure superficial thinking (Kohn, A. 2000).  So what, you may ask, is the dilemma?
The test may be biased, the families who can afford "test-prep" materials will have their children better prepared, the quality of instruction declines most for those who have the least, many educators are leaving the field because of what is being done to schools in the name of accountability and tougher standards, vitually all specialist condemn the practice of giving tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old and norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching (Kohn, A. 2000).
I feel it is time that we take a hard and serious look at stadardized testing and move toward some type of reform throughout the United States so that school can be fun and enjoyable again for students and teachers.


Kohn, A. 2000 Standardized Testing and Its Victims Education Week  Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/staiv.htm

Retrieved from http://fairtest.org/facts/howharm.htm

Retrieved from http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=1843


  1. I do not think standardized tests are the way to go. Some children may not care about them at all or worry about them but there are a great deal of children who stress over them to the point of getting sick or just don't test well. I was one that did not test well though it was mostly on standardized style tests. The education of the whole child is a challenging and intricate process just as the assessment of knowledge is a delicate and vital process. Children should be assessed in a variety of ways that cater to the multiple intelligences and learning styles.

  2. I know about the stress in testing. Right now I hate the idea of having to take a standardized test and I understand how the children feel. Our students are tested so much that you begin to feel that maybe they are testing them to much. But, you need some kind testing in place in order to develop a program that will fit the need of each individual child. I love reading your post. Tonetta

  3. Tonetta,
    I wish school children could be graded on daily observations of participation and accomplishments. This would be much more accurate than testing. Children that are musical learners, artistic learners, physical learners, just to name a few, often do poorly on tests. Logical learners usually do well. Therefore, a child's learning style often dictates their grade level on the test.

    Many standardized tests are, to me, used for political reasons. The outcomes of these tests measure school effectiveness, assist with advocacy issues depending on school trends, and are often required for school subsidy monies! The children are being used to create scores which will be put into school statistics.

    Standardized tests which are used as a single determining factor for advacement or graduation should not be legal. An entire years learning can not be determined by the outcome of one test.

    In our school district, senior projects are the graduating requirement. The projects require an extensive paper. The papers and projects are scrutinized, and those deemed acceptable are passes. If your project and paper are not accepted, you repeat your senior year. Many parents are angry about this policy, and many are advocating against it.

    Mary L.

  4. Stephanie,
    I too remember feeling anxious when it was test time during elementary school. I was always a good student as well but when it came time for tests and filling in the bubbles I would break into a cold sweat and worry that I wouldn't be allowed to move up to the next grade level with my peers. I always passed the tests just fine and never had any issues in school but I still can remember the anxiety over the tests. My two sons are currenly in 1st and 3rd grade. The 1st and 2nd graders are testing this week and the 3rd graders will be tested next week. This is not the first test of the year for them. They haven't mentioned feeling anxious or nervous about their tests but they could be internalizing it as well.

    I do understand what you are saying about the picture and how different children with different backgrounds would answer differently. The tests are not fair. The teachers are absolutely teaching to the test. They take 3 weeks out of the curriculum to teach test taking skills and practice tests. I think if they spent the time focusing more on the children and how they each learning differently and finding ways to teach to different learning styles they wouldn't have to test and spend so much time on test taking skills and practice. Maybe we could test on how individual children learn best and divide classes of children based on their learning styles instead of their achievement scores. Then we can have classrooms that have listening based rooms, kinesthetic rooms, spatial rooms, logical rooms, etc. Then each child's learning style would be developed and then their academic scores would soar. We have a long way to go to figure this all out.

  5. I love your post! My daughter became so stressed out about the ACT test that not only did she bomb it, but she is now considering skipping college and anything else that requires an entrance exam. I feel bad for these students who do not test well. I agree that students should be tested on functionality if anything. And definitely learning styles should play more of a part in assessment and teaching than it currently does.