Standardized tests are tests that require each student to answer the same set of “standard” questions, and are graded in a uniform and consistent manner. Standard testing has been a topic of debate for many parents, students, and schools in the era of neoliberal education.
Concerns over standardized testing range from how reliable they are in reflecting students’ abilities, to how they could have potential negative impacts on students that may be knowledgeable but struggle with high-stakes test environments.
Still, there are advantages to standardized testing. Standardized tests can be immensely useful to gain a pulse on the quality of the curriculum, and whether it meets specified learning goals and objectives. Standardized tests also help point out areas for improvement in education, and emphasize aspects of students’ education that could be lacking.
There are many legitimate reasons to be in favor of standardized testing, as there are reasons to be against it. Let’s go over the top 20 pros and cons of standardized testing so you can decide for yourself whether you’re in favor or against standardized tests.
Summary: Are Standardized Tests Good or Bad?
|Pros of Standardized Tests||Cons of Standardized Tests|
|PRO: They enable schools to track student progress.||CON: A single test cannot sufficiently tell a student’s knowledge. If the student has a bad day, it sticks with them!|
|PRO: They help teachers to identify areas for improvement.||CON: Standardized tests cause stress and anxiety for children.|
|PRO: They help keep schools accountable to policymakers.||CON: Teachers ‘teach to the test’ which leads to the lower-quality rote learning method of teaching.|
|PRO: The uniformity of tests minimizes marker bias.||CON: Poor test results can lead to low student self-esteem|
|PRO: Grading is efficient because it can be done by machines.||CON: Low scores on one single high-stakes test can prevent you from getting into a good college.|
|PRO: All students take the same test which enables fair comparisons.||CON: Standardized tests privilege white middle-class students who historically know how to ‘play the game’ of standardized testing better than minorities.|
|PRO: Test scores are objective and not ambiguous or subjective.||CON: Standardized tests cannot effectively cater to all learning styles.|
|PRO: Having upcoming tests that compare students can motivate students to study hard.||CON: A single test score does not provide a comprehensive overview of a student’s abilities and value.|
|PRO: Standardized testing is consistent across schools and systems which keeps all teachers nation-wide on track.||CON: Students learn to the test, meaning they will ignore any information or learning opportunities that are not part of the upcoming test.|
|PRO: Standardized tests encourage students to get into study habits that set them up well for college.||CON: A test score does not indicate college readiness. E.g. Resilience and self-motivation are important factors that aren’t tested.|
Pros Of Standardized Testing
1. They Help you Track the Progress of Education
Schools need metrics they can reliably use to evaluate students’ progress and see whether teachers are successfully implementing the curriculum. Standardized tests provide a way for school boards and regulatory bodies to determine whether stated educational objectives are being met according to the grade level.
Administering standardized tests on a yearly basis also helps to form a year-over-year analysis of progress made, and introduces benchmarks from which school boards can evaluate whether they have strayed or surpassed the existing average of education being taught. It’s important for schools to be able to compare their academic performance between years, and standardized testing is a reliable way to do so.
2. They help you Identify Areas for Improvement
Standardized testing brings light to areas of the curriculum that are lacking, and can be used to formulate education plans for improvement in those areas. For example, if standardized tests within a school showed that the average test results in math were below grade level, this is helpful for that school to know they need to improve their math curriculum and teaching.
Schools need to understand whether they are meeting their identified learning objectives, and standardized tests offer a way to determine whether they are fulfilling their identified learning goals or not.
3. They Keep Schools Accountable
The value of standardized tests goes beyond that of the individual school, especially when results are used to compare school performance on the national level. When data from standardized tests are generated on a national level, this allows for comparisons between regions and geographic locations, so it’s clear which areas lack in their education and require additional reinforcement.
Standardized testing is an instructive way for governments to gain a pulse on which regions are performing up to standard, above the standard and below the standard. In cases where the results are below average, this expresses that more support or resources are needed to address the educational gap; whereas, in areas where test scores were higher, we can look to such schools to understand what they are doing better and learn from them.
Standardized tests provide a reliable and objective method to assess student achievement and learning. While removing all aspects of impartiality is difficult when it comes to scoring tests, since standardized tests require all test-takers to answer the same set of questions, it creates a greater degree of consistency and objectivity in the test results.
Standardized tests are graded by machines or blind reviewers. This is another measure that standardized tests take to achieve a higher degree of impartiality in assessing the test scores.
5. Standardized Tests are Efficient
Most standardized tests are evaluated by machines or AI, which makes assessing standardized tests efficient, less costly and time-consuming. Standardized tests are easy to process, generate significant amounts of education data and create a high-level picture of the state of education.
Essentially standardized tests offer government and regulatory bodies an efficient, low-cost method of extracting large amounts of education data without the burden of substantial associated costs and time investment.
6. They allow you to Compare Students
Parents, students, teachers, school boards and broader governments benefit from the data of standardized tests in seeing where any particular student falls according to the median grade average. The sum of test scores allows schools to make internal comparisons of their performance, comparisons between schools in the same area and schools in different areas.
7. They are clear and Unambiguous
Test scores are black and white and leave no room for interpretation. Student assessments can often be fraught with partiality and subjectivity on the part of the person marking the test.
With standardized tests, the results are unambiguous, clear and impartial.
8. They Can Motivate Students
Students that want to do well on standardized tests are more motivated to study and learn the course material to get a better grade. For some students, a standardized test is an effective motivator to get students to learn better and take school more seriously.
Students are well aware of the importance of high test scores, particularly with respect to the SATs. Lots of students take these tests seriously and spend significant time preparing so they can do well on them.
9. They Provide Consistency Across Education Programs
Education is not limited to the public school setting. Education is offered by various organizations, institutions and homes. Parents that decide to homeschool their kids benefit from the standardized tests because this shows whether their teaching met or exceeds public school standards.
Similarly, private schools and charter schools also benefit from standardized tests by being able to make these same comparisons between their education curriculum and that of traditional public schools.
10. They Instil Good Learning Habits
All tests require students to prepare to be able to take them and do well. Standardized tests are no different. They encourage students to study hard, to develop good study habits that stick and to learn the course material.
Ultimately, all learning is good learning, and while standardized testing has various issues (which we will discuss) the underlying aim to encourage learning and see what progress is made is a positive aspect of education which ought to be encouraged.
1. They are not Accurate Reflections of Student Ability
Lots of students struggle with test-taking and face anxiety when it comes to these types of assessments. Level of stress, mood and emotional state can all impact a person’s ability when it comes to completing these kinds of assessments. As a result, it makes it difficult to know whether these tests are truly reflective of students’ skills and competencies.
For students that face greater difficulty with test-taking, it is possible that standardized tests produce inaccurate results which could have other, negative impacts on the student’s well-being and potential future opportunities.
2. They Cause Stress
Standardized testing can be a major source of stress for students and teachers alike. It’s well-known that many students don’t perform well on tests, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that these students are any less knowledgeable or educated than the students that do perform well.
Standardized tests create performance anxiety, and many students feel overwhelmingly bound by these test scores to get accepted into top schools. Teachers are also indirectly assessed by standardized tests because student performance is reflective of how well kids are being taught. Evidently, when students do not perform well because of stress-related factors, this does not reflect negatively on the teacher, though it may be interpreted that way.
3. Teachers ‘Teach to the Test’
When students need to prepare students for standardized tests, this can impact the way they teach the course material and it can result in teachers ‘teaching to the test,’ rather than the real goal of ensuring students truly understand the material.
Teaching to the test often involves rote learning (memorization of answers) rather than serious engagement with the process of learning. Education theorist Paolo Friere called this the ‘banking model‘, which discourages creative and process thinking, and instead encourages shallow memorization of information.
This could have the effect of a more surface-layer education, or the material only being understood by students at a shallow level since they are learning how to do well on the test rather than learning the contents of the subject in and of themselves.
4. They Negatively Impact Student Self-Esteem
When students score poorly on standardized tests, it’s easy for students to feel that these grades are indicators of their overall intelligence and their capacity to do well. Unfortunately, test scores can seriously impact a student’s own sense of their educational capabilities, and they can hinder their progress moving forward.
For example, if a student doesn’t test well, they might simply believe they are not good at school, or that they aren’t smart or cut out for it. Consequently, the student’s attitude towards education and learning is impacted, and they may be disengaged moving forward in their education.
5. They Pose Barriers to Future Opportunities
The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a standardized test that is used for admissions to colleges in the United States. The SAT has garnered significant criticism in recent years, with nearly 1600 schools in the US opting out of standardized tests as part of the “test-optional” movement.
Students that do not score well on the SATs have a much harder time getting admitted to top colleges and post-secondary institutions. The issue is that in cases where SAT scores are not reflective of the individual student’s abilities, then their test results impact their future opportunities based on this inaccurate assessment of their academic temperament and potential.
6. They Disproportionately Favor White Students
Studies repeatedly show that non-minority students and white students from more affluent communities score better on standardized tests than their non-white counterparts.
While the disparity in test results stresses the need to address educational gaps in underserved communities, the gap also raises questions about the fairness of the test questions themselves (or other factors that might cause the disparity.)
Whatever the reason for the gap in education across white students and non-white students, this gap in test scores creates further inequality and inequitable access to higher education.
7. Education is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation
Everyone is different—this means we all learn at a different pace, and have different academic aptitudes and preferences. Education should not be viewed through a cookie-cutter or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; that said, standardized testing looks to apply education and understand its outcomes in this way.
Standardized tests are not inclusive of differing learning styles and applies the same set of rules for each student completing the assessment. Treating each student the exact same fails to recognize important ways in which we learn and understand educational materials.
8. Standardized Tests are Not Comprehensive
When it comes to standardized tests, it’s important that schools do not see test scores as a comprehensive reflection of a student’s academic capabilities. Besides this, schools should not base their admissions decisions on the sole basis of test results, because this ignores other factors that are relevant to the student’s skills and competencies.
Exclusively relying on the results of standardized tests to form decisions on student admissions to schools would result in many students being denied admission unfairly. Just because a student may not have performed well on a single assessment, this shouldn’t be the sole determinant for whether they get into a good college or not. Other metrics for student assessment must be considered in these admissions processes.
9. Students Learn to the Test
Just like teachers can teach to the test, students can learn to score well on the test too. The problem is that learning to the ‘test’ underdetermines real learning of the subject material.
This encourages learning not for learning’s sake, but for the sake of scoring high on a test. Learning should be encouraged for its own purposes, and standardized testing places the focus on scores rather than learning in itself.
10. Exams Do Not Show College Readiness Soft Skills
Proponents of standardized testing argued that the tests would help highschool students prepare for college and make the transition smoother.
Despite their belief, the numbers tell a different story. High test scores on standardized tests have not correlated with greater student readiness to enter college. It is also not clear how it would result in students being more prepared for college in the first place.
Rather, the number of schools that are dropping the requirements for standardized testing is skyrocketing. These schools are making it optional for students to take standardized tests, and are part of the “test-optional” movement.
When it comes to standardized testing, the important thing is that the test scores are not seen as the total picture of a student’s abilities, but rather as part of a broader assessment or understanding. Testing data should be used to gain a general sense of how education is going, and whether learning objectives are being met or not. Standardized tests shouldn’t be seen as comprehensive, and schools should not base their admissions decisions solely on the scores of standardized tests.