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Standardized Tests

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Do standardized test scores accurately describe the achievements of a student? Regardless of what reports and newspapers suggest, scores on standardized tests do not reflect a student’s achievements or abilities. Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are the focus of argument not only among teachers and educational reformers, but also among students. Opponents agree that the standardized tests are weighted too heavily, and that test anxiety obstructs learning, and finally, that standardized tests are not objective. Colleges exaggerate the weight of the scores that students earn on standardized tests, thereby focusing too closely on test scores rather than the student’s ability. Instead, colleges and admission boards should look at the grades that students earn in the classroom, which is the place where a student’s capability is truly put to the test.

Teachers will supply assessments based on the material that they have assigned and reviewed which is the fairest way to evaluate the student’s effort and ability. Studies have shown that SAT scores do not accurately measure the abilities of students, so if a test is going to be used, it should be created by the college or university. If each college were to create its own standardized test based on the curriculum taught, the test scores would dramatically increase and each student would have a fair chance of reaching their full potential. In addition, colleges overvalue standardized test scores; the tests cost an exorbitant amount of money and the “benefits” of the tests do not justify these costs. Many families will spend excessive amounts of money in order to see their child excel on the SAT, which often leads to disappointment.

Students will prepare countless hours in order to do well on the test; they will spend hours in a classroom environment doing hundreds of multiple choice questions in hopes that their practice will result in a successful score. They will even spend money on online courses and textbooks, using their free time to study, again, hoping it will lead to an improved test score; moreover, states spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the standardized tests. Taxpayer money that could be used so much more efficiently is spent on these tests, and the same amount or even more is spent on preparing students (Strauss). Unbelievably, standardized tests not only unfairly judge the ability of the student body, but also each teacher’s abilities.

Numerous states have passed laws requiring that teachers are evaluated by their students’ standardized test scores, but most subjects do not yet have standardized tests. In order to compensate for the lack of testing in many subjects, “complex formulas are used to devise how teachers who don’t teach math and English are judged by the test scores of teachers who do” (Strauss). Furthermore, these tests do not reflect the way students learn. While our understanding of the brain and how students learn and think has progressed tremendously, standardized tests have remained the same. Test makers continually presume that knowledge can be broken into separate pieces and that people learn by absorbing these individual sections. Today, intellectual and developmental studies recognize that knowledge is not able divisible and that people learn by connecting what they already know with what they are trying to learn; and if they cannot actively make sense out of what they are doing, they will not learn or remember.

These types of tests are very poor measurements of a student’s learning ability and they are weak measures of the ability to comprehend complex material, write, apply math, understand scientific methods or reasoning, or grasp social science concepts. They do not adequately measure thinking skills or assess what people can do on real-world tasks. In addition the overwhelming importance college administrations grant these tests, the tests cause stress that obstructs students’ ability to learn. A study done at the University of Maryland showed that teachers are beginning to “teach to the test” rather than having the students truly learn what they are being taught (Jacobs). When test scores determine teacher evaluation, salary, and bonuses along with determining whether teachers and principals are dismissed, these assessments are truly stress-filled nightmares.

The educational system is now relying more than ever on standardized tests as their primary evaluation tool, a tendency that has forced teachers at all grade levels to mold students around performance goals and relative standards of brilliance instead of internal ambitions. The emphasis on external goals, test scores, has created an unhealthy classroom that standardized tests provoke considerable anxiety among students’, which seems to increase with age and experience, again, another example of “teaching to the test”. As time progresses, students become conscious of the ever-greatening need to score well on standardized tests. Students receive pressure from both teachers and parents to do well, increasing stress in their already stressful lives.

Parents will force their children to stay up long nights, not only to complete the everyday required homework, but also to take practice exams. Standardized tests are dreaded by almost all students, and since the tests are being administered every year, students feel compelled to do well but will often feel inferior when they do not perform as expected. With the stakes so high on standardized tests, students cannot help but feel apprehensive about their test results, which will compel students to neglect their academic studies, and their grades will suffer. Since colleges focus not only on the standardized tests but also on the grades achieved in the classroom, students are being stretched extremely thin with social as well as academic responsibilities.

As SATs approach each year, the amount of stress that students endure is overwhelming. According to WebMD, the short term effects of stress include immune system weakness, headaches, and nausea, while long term effects include heart problems, depression, and emotional disorders (“Stress Management – Effects of Stress”). Between after-school jobs, busy schedules, and educational struggles, students already have more than enough stress in their lives; adding standardized tests is frustrating and already stressful situation, and in the long run, will only cause problems.

In addition to the overemphasis on standardized test scores and the resulting stress, these tests are not objective. The tests makers identify their multiple-choice tests as ‘objective’ and would have many consider objectivity as a good quality. The objectivity resides not in the tests as a whole, but purely in the fact that no subjective element enters the grading process once the key has been decided upon. However, the selections of questions, topics, and the choice of format, that is, multiple-choice as opposed to short-answer, are all subjective. ‘Objective’, in the procedural sense, means the same mark will be received no matter who evaluates the test. The chosen answer is simply judged as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ in unity with the key, no argument or validation is permitted, and the grading can be done by a machine rather that a human being.

Additionally, the essay portion will no longer appear on the SAT starting in the 2014 school year; the essay that currently appears on standardized tests are not objective in the slightest. The “objective” portion is the loose guidelines that the graders are inclined to follow. One particular grader may have a strong bias for or against the essay topic, which, in turn, may lead to an unfair score. Also since structure, argumentation, vocabulary and, variation in sentence structure are the criteria for evaluation, the graders cannot escape subjectivity (CollegeBoard.com, Easy Scoring). Furthermore, there is the chance that one student may receive a higher score simply based on the fact that the professor or teacher is not fully involved in the grading process, or this grader may feel that he or she has the ability to ignore the official “rubric”. Another evaluator though, may follow the guidelines strictly and score the essays much lower.

Moving away from standardized testing is a goal that should be met in the near future. Many students do not have the time or money to excel on the tests administered by the state. Standardized tests could be good for a number of reasons, but because they are weighted too heavily, they cause anxiety that obstructs learning and are not objective. Standardized tests should not be an essential piece of the college admissions process.

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