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Standardized Testing: Helping or Hurting Students?

Students file into the gymnasium, where several desks are set up. They are instructed not to speak to one another and grab a No. 2 pencil as they proceed to the desks, each labeled with a note card bearing their first and last names. Some students confidently stride to their assigned seats, eager to take the test, while others nervously fidget; the fear of failing is hanging over their heads.

Silence falls over the test takers. The assessment takes anywhere from one hour to several hours. After the students hand in their test, they wait months for their results. 

The federal government requires all students (grades 3-8) to take an annual standardized mathematics and English test under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The most common assessments in Colorado are the PSAT, SAT, and CMAS. 

When it comes to standardized testing, “High school graduates applying as first-time freshmen will not be required to submit their SAT or ACT test scores as part of the college admission process to state/public four-year colleges and universities in Colorado,” states the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). 

Today, these types of assessments are debated throughout the school system. Many supporters believe it’s a tool for gauging educational progress, while others argue it’s not an effective or fair way to gather information. Is standardized testing helping or hurting students?

Say YES To Standardized Testing
One party that is in favor of standardized testing is the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). According to the CDE Guide for School Years 2022-2023, statewide assessments provide the state with valuable, overall academic performance information.

“Participation is important because the results help students, parents, schools and districts understand if students have mastered the content they need to know by the end of the school year and whether they are on track for college or careers after graduation,” The CDE states in the guide. “The results also let parents know how their student is doing compared with peers across the school, district and state.”

The National Test Prep Association argues that standardized testing provides a measure of objectivity. 

“In a single day, sometimes in just an hour or two, a standardized test evaluates all test takers on consistent metrics. In nearly any field, standardized testing is the most practical way to remove subjectivity and achieve an objective evaluation,” states the National Test Prep Association. “While the efficacy of specific tests and their utilization can be debated, the value of testing is clear: because educational standards vary across the country (and the world), standardized tests remain among the most efficient and effective tools for measuring student knowledge, ability, and achievement.”

Say NO To Standardized Testing
On the contrary, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) argues that standardized tests are problematic. The organization points out that these types of assessments don’t value diversity because every student is treated as if they’re identical.

“Test companies not only manufacture the tests, they also manufacture the courses and programs that can be taken to ‘prepare for the test.’ If you have the money, you can even get special tutors that will help you do well on a test,” ASCD explains. “If you don’t have the money, and your school is in a low socio-economic area that gets less funding than rich suburban schools, then you’re not getting the same preparation for the test as those at the higher socio-economic levels do.” 

Similarly, some students are “good” test takers, and others struggle. According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Literacy Research, teachers and parents report that “high-stakes tests lead to higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of confidence on the part of elementary students.” 

Moreover, teachers reported other emotional and physical side effects on students during testing, such as “panic, irritability, frustration, boredom, crying, headaches, and loss of sleep.” 

Education, like everything else, is constantly changing. “Old” and “new” math is one example of how the educational system has evolved. When your child brings back their math homework, the expectations and steps for completion have changed. Is standardized testing one of the next elements to change, or is the data it provides too invaluable? 

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