How Does Standardized Testing Impact the Classroom?

Standardized tests help to measure individual performance and evaluate curriculum coverage.
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Standardized tests in American schools are supposed to verify that students have learned the curriculum and help in college placement. Opponents argue they are ineffective as a measure of achievement. They're also used as indicators for teacher and school effectiveness. However, high-stake standardized testing has the unfortunate consequence of stifling individual teaching methods, placing certain students such as those from low-socio-economic backgrounds at a disadvantage, encouraging rote studying and narrowing the scope of classroom instruction.

1 Classroom Instruction

The content of standardized tests is not usually in tandem with typical classroom instruction and behaviour because it has to be generalized. Teachers have to modify their teaching practices and the scope of their classroom instruction to prepare students adequately for the tests. To achieve high test scores that reflect adequate student achievement, teachers tend to narrow the curriculum and focus on subjects that are tested such as math and reading, while minimizing other learning activities such as art and physical education. They also devote more time to memorization rather than critical thinking and learning, which lowers the quality of instruction.

2 Teacher Accountability

Linking standardized test scores to teacher accountability may have undesirable consequences such as unfair evaluation of teachers, cheating and exam-leaking, teacher demoralization and even resignation where teachers fail to meet expectations. Teachers are increasingly being evaluated on the basis of their students’ achievements, such that a teacher is considered effective if his classes achieve high scores and where possible attain year-on-year improvement, while those whose classes score more poorly face reproach and even termination. However, this approach is not only skewed but may also demoralize teachers because it only takes one aspect of education into account and ignores other ways in which they contribute to student learning.

3 Rote Studying

The use of standardized tests to evaluate students’ achievement and the overemphasis on high scores as a prerequisite to placement or advancement has caused them to develop rote studying techniques just to pass the exams. Students tend to memorize rather than internalize classroom instruction, and they also take several practice tests just to have a clearer idea of the questions that might be asked in the test. As a result, students place more focus on the exam rather than on learning in class, and they may end up getting highly stressed. For example, students who are poor-test takers but are otherwise smart may achieve low test scores that are not a accurate reflection of their aptitude.

4 Student Achievement

Standardized testing may be misleading about the nature of student achievement because it is measured during one point in time; although it may highlight a student’s area of weakness, it does not pinpoint the information required for instructional change. The tests are administered periodically so they do not usually give a comprehensive picture of a student’s range of knowledge and skills. The tests may also place English-language learners, students with learning disabilities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds at a disadvantage.

Maria OCadiz has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in Education. She is a former university professor, curriculum facilitator and teacher.