Standardized Testing: Is It Effective?

Categories: Education

I nervously bounce my knee as I focus all of my energy on the Scantron form and test booklet laying on the desk in front of me. These next four hours could determine the rest of my life. I glance around the room at the thirty other students who are in the same position as I am. I realize that some of them will do poorly and get denied from their dream college, and some of them won’t be able to finish in time and score poorly as a result of their learning disorder, causing them to believe that they aren’t smart.

I can feel the tension in the room as everyone is silent and focused, realizing the importance that this test will have on their futures. Every year, over a million high school students prepare to take what they are told is the most important test of their life—the SAT.

Many students begin studying for the test more than a year in advance, and it is commonplace to purchase practice books and attend courses in preparation for the test.

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After countless hours of studying, these students take the test that will be one of the major factors in their admission to colleges. This test puts a great deal of stress on students, but it isn’t the only standardized test that students encounter. In fact, students are required to take several standardized tests every year. Standardized testing has been deeply integrated in our education system for a long time, and it time that we reevaluate its effectiveness.

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The way in which we educate the youth of today has a huge impact on the future of our society and therefore the education system should be heavily valued and carefully designed. If we want to raise a generation of great leaders and innovators, we must give children a quality education.

However, many aspects of the American education system are outdated and in need of improvement, including the standardized testing system. The American education system has been heavily dependent on standardized testing since the early 1900’s with little changes. Meanwhile, the world has changed drastically and so the system should be changed accordingly. This issue has caused much controversy in recent decades as people begin to realize the ineffectiveness of the current system and fight for change. Supporters of the system argue that it is a great method of evaluating and comparing students while the opposing viewpoint argues that its many flaws make it impractical.

However, despite the large and constantly increasing opposition to standardized testing, little change has been made. In this essay, I will discuss the arguments for and against the use of standardized testing in the education system and provide evidence that it should not be used. I will begin with the arguments against standardized testing, explaining that it is outdated, evaluates test-taking skills rather than intelligence, is unfair to some students, has too much impact on college admissions, puts excess pressure on students, and causes teachers to teach to the tests. Following my arguments against standardized testing, I will include arguments from the other side of the controversy, including the claims that standardized tests are an objective evaluation of students, evaluate the effectiveness of teaching methods, compare the quality of schools, compare students for college admissions, and finally the claim that there is simply no better option. I will then refute these claims with support to show their falsity.

Throughout the essay, I will show that although standardized testing provides benefits such as the objective comparison of students and evaluation of teaching methods, its unfair evaluation of students and negative effect on teaching styles prove it is not the best method of student evaluation. In the TED Talk, entitled “None of the Above-Why Standardized Testing Fails”, Bob Sternberg argues that standardized testing isn’t effective because it was created in the early 1900’s and since then, society has changed greatly. He says that at the time when these tests were introduced, the knowledge base required to be successful in society was much simpler than it is today so the tests were an adequate measurement of a person’s potential.

However, now it is necessary to possess many more skills in order to be successful and so the tests have become an outdated measurement. While the tests only measure memory and analytical skills, it is now necessary to possess creativity, flexibility, wisdom, and practical skills in order to succeed in the modern world. Sternberg makes a strong point as he explains that “we’ve been using standardized testing for a hundred years, so people have gotten used to it and don’t want to change. But imagine how many people would be dead if we used the same medical tests of a hundred years ago” (Sternberg). It is illogical to expect a one hundred year old system to continue to work effectively in a rapidly changing society and therefore standardized testing is an outdated system in need of improvement. Another issue with using standardized testing as an evaluation of students is that it is more of a measurement of a student’s test-taking skills rather than their intelligence. There are many intelligent students who have difficulty taking tests and therefore score poorly on standardized tests.

James Alvino and Jerome Wieler discuss this issue in their article from The Phi Delta Kappan, explaining that “students who do well on standardized tests –and many of them are very bright-have been able to conform their thinking to the dictates of psychometrically determined systems of relevance” (Alvino, Wieler 107). Only those who can conform to what test makers are looking for can be successful on the tests. This makes standardized testing an unfair and inaccurate measurement of a student’s worth because students that have learning disorders or simply have trouble with test-taking are at an extreme disadvantage. Related to this issue, there are many great students who are convinced that they are not smart due to poor scores on standardized tests. No matter how talented a student is, the education system places so much importance on standardized testing that low-scoring students get the impression that they are unintelligent.

Students with unbelievable potential are told they are not good enough and give up on their dreams. These students could be great leaders and innovators when they grow up, yet they are told that they don’t have what it takes to succeed simply because they didn’t score well on standardized tests. The pressure placed on students to do well on standardized tests forces them to conform to the way of thinking that the test-making corporations base their tests on. This conformity creates an education system that does not foster creativity or individuality as students are all expected to learn in the way and share the same skills. As a result, many students who struggle with standardized testing become frustrated to the point of dropping out of school. In fact, among high school dropouts, a high percentage are gifted students due to the “alienating modes of testing, for students may come to perceive them as the ultimate measure of conformity of thought” (Alvino, Wieler 107).

Every person has their own unique strengths and talents and therefore should not be judged on the same standards as everyone else. The education system only celebrates students which are talented in terms of the standards that are put in place by educators. The result is a large number of greatly talented children that are deemed unintelligent by the education system because their talent lies elsewhere. In order to adapt to the unique learning styles and talents of different students, the education system must not use a standardized method of evaluating its students. Standardized testing is a huge factor for college admissions as colleges look for students with the highest SAT or ACT scores and often have minimum score cutoffs for acceptance. This puts a lot of faith into the effectiveness of standardized tests as colleges are using scores as one of the main criteria for judging a student. Many people are highly critical of the amount that test scores affect admissions because it is an unfair evaluation of a student’s worth and students should be admitted based on the possession of a more wide range of skills than those tested by the SAT.

While other factors such as GPA, recommendations, extracurricular activities, and essays are also important in the admissions process, the fact that so many schools have a strict minimum SAT score for acceptance causes the system to be flawed. Because of this, “standardized tests have been attacked for distorting educational priorities and for being the basis on which students with lower scores are excluded from educational opportunities or falsely tracked within their own institutions” (Fruehling 7). Students who are incredibly talented but have trouble with taking tests have no chance at getting accepted into top universities due solely to their low test scores. This is extremely unfair to these students as well as harmful to society since these kids might make a great impact on the world if they had the opportunities that come with attending a prestigious university.

On the bright side, due to the negative feedback on the current system, many colleges are putting less weight on test scores and increasing the importance of other factors for admissions. However, there is still much more room for improvement as many colleges still have minimum score cutoffs that should be discontinued to make college admissions a fair process. This high value of test scores for college admissions puts an immense amount of pressure on high school students to do well on the SATs and ACTs. Every student has a dream school that they want to be accepted into, but these dreams are often crushed by insufficient test scores. As a result of this as well as pressure from parents to score well and receive scholarships, students often are extremely nervous about the SATs to the point where it causes an unhealthy level of stress.

Most psychologists agree that a small amount of stress is healthy, but high levels of stress can cause many negative effects on the human body and brain. The amount of pressure put on students by standardized tests is often enough to cause this unhealthy stress. While it is important to keep kids motivated and push them to succeed, children should not have to feel overly stressed about school because this is unfair and will detract from the education of the students. An overly stressed student is not able to function properly as stress can cause memory problems, depression, and anxiety. Without the stress caused by standardized testing, students would be healthier and capable of learning more effectively. By this logic, standardized tests are hindering the education of students and to improve the education system, the amount of standardized tests given and the amount of weight they carry should be decreased.

A final argument against the use of standardized testing is the fact that it results in negative change to curriculums as teachers “teach to the test”. The meaning of this phrase is that the curriculum is altered in order to focus on preparing students for standardized tests. This is a common occurrence because teachers are evaluated based on the test scores of their students so they want to ensure that they receive high scores. Although teaching to the test is effective at improving test scores, it has a negative impact on education as a whole. This is because the knowledge and skills that students are taught in preparation for a standardized test are not very helpful in any other aspects of life, and all of the time that is spent preparing students for tests is time that should have been spent on teaching academic content. In addition to the time lost due to teaching to the test, the corporations that create the tests are given too much power over the curriculum.

In Oscar Hough’s journal, “The Standardized Test: To Be or Not to Be” he makes a good point that “if teachers are to be judged by the scores their students make on standardized tests, it is inevitable that many will concentrate on teaching the content of a test. In this way a standardized test dictates the material to be taught” (Haeugh 53). As long as test scores are used to evaluate teachers, curriculum will be influenced by standardized tests. Allowing the corporations that make and distribute standardized tests to control what is taught to students across the country is not beneficial to our education system. Standardized testing has too large of an influence on the way that teachers design their lessons and has a negative effect in schools due to the time lost that could have been spent teaching actual content and the amount of power given to the corporations that make the tests. While there are many people who believe that standardized testing is ineffective and should not be so heavily used, there are also many supporters of the tests.

One common argument of those in favor of standardized tests is that they provide an objective evaluation of students and provide parents and teachers with numerical data regarding the success of students. They argue that standardized tests provide a level playing field for all students since the grading system is set in stone and is the same for every student. They also argue that the results are very helpful for parents and teachers to track the progress of students. While this is a valid point and test results can definitely be helpful, they are based on a system that, despite being objective, is unfair to students who are not good at test taking. The brain is very complex and there are many different ways in which a person can be intelligent. However, standardized tests “measure only about eight mental operations. The Guilford Structure of the Intellect Model suggests over 120 mental operations not tested by current instruments” (Alvino, Wieler 107).

As a result, standardized tests are unfair to those students who are gifted at any of the 112 mental operations that were not measured by tests. In addition to evaluating the success of students, supporters of standardized testing argue that it is a good method of evaluating the effectiveness of teachers and their methods. They argue that by observing the change in test scores of a class, the teacher’s effectiveness can be evaluated based on whether the scores increased or decreased. This is partly true in the sense that test results show how well a teacher can prepare their students for the test. However, this information is not insightful to a teacher’s effectiveness in teaching actual course material and judging teachers based on the test scores of their students furthers the problem of teaching to the test.

Evaluation of teachers based on test scores will always result in teaching to the test because “teachers who are held accountable then feel the need to resort to devices of collecting, organizing, and teaching previous examination questions and their answers” (Hough 53-54). This is an issue because teachers are spending time preparing students for standardized tests instead of teaching course material. Another argument in favor of standardized tests is that they can be used in order to objectively compare the quality of different schools. The quality of a school is very important to students when deciding which college to attend and to parents of younger children when here to move.

Supporters argue that without test scores, there would be little basis for comparing schools accurately. While this is a valid point and test scores are truly helpful in comparing schools, scores should not be the main factor for determining the quality of schools as there are many other very important aspects that are overlooked such as the teaching staff, facilities, location, and success of students after graduation. For example, the salaries of graduated students from a university is a much better indicator of the quality of education than standardized test scores because test scores only show how many good test takers attend a university while the salaries of alumni shows how well the school prepared its students for their careers.

For this reason, standardized test scores should not be such a large factor in comparing the quality of schools. While supporters of standardized testing argue that test scores help students choose colleges, they are also arguing that test scores help colleges chose students. It is in the best interest of colleges to accept only the best students, therefore many factors impact which students will be most successful. Due to many factors such as teacher recommendations not being objective, some people believe that an admissions system based on standardized testing is the best solution. The problem with this is that admissions should not be so heavily impacted by how well a student scored on one test. The other factors such as extracurricular activities and GPA are things that the student worked on for years while the SAT only captures the success of a student during a four hour period.

For example, I witnessed this issue as one of my good friends from high school was negatively affected by his SAT score. He is one of the smartest people I know; he earned straight A’s all throughout school, was the top of his class, had great extracurricular activities, and was on track to get accepted into an amazing university. However, despite his intelligence and academic success, he was not a good test taker. After copious amounts of studying and multiple attempts, he still only got an average score on the SAT. His scores significantly hurt his chances of getting into prestigious universities and he ended up getting denied from his dream school. Students should not be denied from colleges simply because they do not test well as this is of little importance in the real world if the student is intelligent.

Aside from those that argue that standardized testing is effective, there are also supporters who believe that it is a flawed system, but it is necessary for it to remain in use because there are no good alternatives and its benefits are important in the education system. This is not a valid argument because there are surely better options for evaluating the intelligence of students. A great example of an effective alternative is the education system of Finland. The unique thing about the system is that there are no standardized tests or ranking of students. Instead, teachers are simply instructed to prepare students for life as effectively as possible. While it may come as a surprise to some, the fact is that this system is extremely effective, as “Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union” (Hancock 2). This proves that quality alternatives to standardized testing can be created that can evaluate students more effectively than the current tests.

In conclusion, standardized testing has a predominantly negative impact on the education of our youth. It is an outdated system that evaluates test-taking skills rather than intelligence and is unfair to students with disabilities or difficulty with test taking. It causes many problems with teachers changing the curriculum to prepare for tests as well as with putting too much stress on students due to its superfluous influence on college admissions. Although supporters of the tests make some valid claims, the benefits are outweighed by the problems and it is clear that standardized testing is a negative influence on the education system and therefore is not the ideal method of student evaluation.

Works Cited

  1. Alvino, James, and Jerome Wieler. “How Standardized Testing Fails to Identify the Gifted and What Teachers Can Do about It.” The Phi Delta Kappan 61.2 (1979): 106-09. JSTOR. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
  2. Anderson, Scarvia B. “Parents and Standardized Tests.” Peabody Journal of Education 58.2 (1981): 96-107. JSTOR. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
  3. Clemmitt, Marcia. “Education.” CQ Researcher. CQ Press, 19 June 2014. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
  4. Fruehling, Donald L. “Viewpoint: Assessment, Evaluation, and Standardized Testing.” Change 18.6 (1986): 7. JSTOR. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.
  5. Hancock, LynNell. “Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?” Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
  6. Haugh, Oscar. “The Standardized Test To Be or Not to Be.” The English Journal 64.3 (1975): 53 55. JSTOR. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
  7. Jost, Kenneth. “Testing in Schools.” CQ Researcher. CQ Press, 20 Apr. 2001. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
  8. Kuncel, Nathan R., and Sarah A. Hezlett. “Standardized Tests Predict Graduate Students’ Success.” Science 315.5815 (2007): 1080-081. JSTOR. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
  9. Loftin, Rachel. “Standardized Tests and Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Indiana University Bloomington, 2014. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.
  10. Salmon-Cox, Leslie. “Teachers and Standardized Achievement Tests: What’s Really Happening?” The Phi Delta Kappan 62.9 (1981): 631-34. JSTOR. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.
  11. Trider, Mary S. “The Right to Read and Standardized Testing: A Necessary Dimension.” The Reading Teacher 24.4 (1971): 320-30. JSTOR. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
  12. None of the Above – Why Standardized Testing Fails. Perf. Bob Sternberg. Bob Sternberg at TEDxOstateU. TED, 4 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
  13. “Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing.” Columbia University. Office of Work/Life, Spring 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.

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Standardized Testing: Is It Effective?. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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