Teaching for the test: Standardized testing fails to make the grade

At its heart, standardized testing is a system with good intentions. It seeks to implement a method by which educators can attempt to effectively measure students’ abilities and aptitudes. 

Yet, despite those good intentions, the implementation of standardized testing proved to be hugely ineffective in developing student learning and continues to inflict harmful effects on the education system as a whole. Consequently, standardized testing should not be a primary method of student aptitude evaluation and less pressure should be placed on the significance of these exams.

The negative effects of standardized testing on students’ physical and emotional well-being are growing increasingly evident. 

Students are spending excessive amounts of times preparing for these exams, creating unnecessary stress and negative attitudes towards schooling. Such stress has been shown to cause students to have incidents of vomiting, headaches, sleep problems, depression, issues of attendance, acting out, and anxiety attacks. 

Reducing the pressures on these exams will allow students will be able to pursue other fields of study as well, such as technical or vocational training. 

Following the implementation of Common Core, the NYS Parent Teacher Association found that parents and educators reported that 75% of students had more test-induced stresses than they had been in previous years. Thus, students are growing more and more anxious when it comes to standardized testing due to the high-stakes of the exams and consequently obtain stress-related symptoms that inflict harm upon the physical and emotional stability of the students.

Standardized testing creates a system in which schools to teach to the test. Thus, students’ intelligence is evaluated based on their ability to correctly fill in a bubble on a Scantron. One becomes a “proficient test-taker” through memorization and regurgitation of information. 

This system creates students who are robotic in nature, failing to encourage creative thinking from non-standardized students. Therefore, standardized testing doesn’t evaluate the aptitudes of a student on a particular subject, but rather their test-taking abilities. 

While proponents of standardized testing argue that it is an objective way to compare students, students think differently from one another and thus express themselves uniquely. Therefore, the only thing these exams are comparing is the students’ abilities to take a test.  

In reducing the high-stakes associated with standardized testing, it is critical to minimize the amount of stress-related symptoms students experience as a result of these tests. Students should be allowed to demonstrate aptitudes using methods deemed suitable other than using standardized exams. 

More trust needs to be placed on teachers so that their evaluation of students is taken seriously. The education system should not be “teaching to a test” but instead teach students important life skills that will be used for real-world application.

Is public education too focused on standardized test scores, rather than teaching students? According to a recent survey of Texas teachers, the answer is yes.

So, why do we test our students? 

Testing is a federal requirement; the Every Students Succeeds Act was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. In order to continue receiving federal funding, the ESSA requires states to give students assessments to check for understanding.

In Texas, we have the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) program, which was implemented in 2012 and includes annual assessments for:

Reading and mathematics (grades 3-8)
Writing (grades 4 and 7)
Science (grades 5 and 8)
Social studies (grade 8)
End-of-course assessments for English I, English II, algebra I, biology, and U.S history

How do teachers feel about testing—and, specifically, the STAAR test? Of the 2,751 participants surveyed on a variety of issues impacting education, a vast majority of educators brought up testing issues as a main concern.

STAAR testing was the largest complaint, with many educators saying it kept them from having peace at their job. One teacher told High Plains Pundit: 

"My only issue is with standardized testing. I do not feel that a standardized test (STAAR) serves any useful purpose. As a high school science teacher, I have to bypass areas of biology that my kids will need at least a basic understanding of should they choose to attend college or even if they choose to take AP biology. I am forced to skip this material because they are either not in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for the STAAR, or they are tested so minimally that I can barely scratch the surface."

Teachers said they feel the STAAR is getting too much focus, ultimately taking away time from long-term learning. Teachers are being forced to teach the TEKS that are only on the STAAR, limiting the students’ education to just those topics.

In addition, teachers agreed students undergoing excessive assessments is a problem. Schools are not just administering the STAAR test in the spring, they also give district and campus assessments—in some cases, every three to six weeks—as well as additional STAAR tests to students who did not receive a satisfactory score. 

“[There is] too much high-stakes testing that drives the teaching,” said another area teacher. 

Testing pressures and the added stress on students and teachers are also significant concerns, according to educators. This stress increases anxiety in students, as well as behavioral problems and increased apathy. 

Is it any wonder that so many concerned teachers stated they are teaching to a test? And unfortunately, the focus of testing has shifted from a student-centered to data-centered, according to educators who participated in the survey.

If the STAAR test is driving the educational decisions in the classrooms, scores—not students—have become the priority.

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