Problems with Standardized Testing
“Where is the standardized test that can measure passion for learning, respect for others, and human empathy?” These are the words of Tom McKenna, a disgruntled high school teacher from Portland, Oregon. Like many other educators and students across the nation, Tom is tired of the system. The educational system today is composed of a series of standardized tests. Standardized tests are bad for many reasons. They cause teachers to limit their curriculum, put low-level income and minority students at a disadvantage, cause school districts to focus too heavily on raising test scores, and extract the passion for learning from students.
In many cases teachers are encouraged to teach only material that will be seen on certain standardized tests. For this reason, teachers are forced to extract superfluous material from the course. Instead, teachers focus only on specific items from the test. Students are encouraged to memorize isolated facts and regurgitate short responses. In an article published by the FairTest organization, this method is called “teaching the test.” Teaching the test seems to be conducive to improving test-taking skills but real academic progression is not always represented.
The aforementioned Tom McKenna was put in this very predicament. In his article titled, “The Straitjacket of Standardized Tests” he tells a story of two of his high school students engaged in a project which enthralled their interest in an unlikely subject. McKenna had become friends with a man named Sol Shapiro. Shapiro, now in a retirement home, had once been a resident in South Portland, Oregon, which was a Jewish immigrant community. McKenna’s students accompanied him to Shapiro’s house in order to conduct an interview. A few seconds into the interview Shapiro broke down in tears and the students immediately turned off the video camera and tape recorder. The students comforted Sol. They finished the interview, much of which was unrecorded.
McKenna noted that these students had an increased interest in oral history following the interview. “They wanted more.” he noted. He then adds, “Unfortunately, given the demands of current educational reform in Oregon, teachers are finding it difficult to give students the "more" they desire.” McKenna was referring to the fact that teachers in Oregon are encouraged to strive to do well on standardized tests, leaving little time to cover other matters. The pressure that is involved has a trickle down effect. Everyone is evaluated by test scores. Principals are evaluated by the school board and teachers by the principals.
Standardized tests are used more so today in the United States than ever before. These tests are used to see if young children are ready to begin school, to track progress throughout the school system, to diagnose learning disabilities, to promote or retain students from the next level, to gage competitiveness amongst other high school...