Saturday, August 6, 2011

The costs of standardized testing

It's sadly ironic that standardized testing has been hyped as the definitive way of quantifying our education systems while the cancerous consequences may never be measurable.

Here is but a modest list of the costs we have suffered at the hands of standardized testing:

  • Standardized testing has narrowed the curriculums that are taught and learned to match the subjects (language arts and math) that are tested, while limiting or eliminating subjects that are not tested (the arts and physical activity). Even subjects that are tested have been narrowed to only what is known to be covered on the test.
  • Loss of opportunities for students to have a broad range of educational experiences.
  • Scarce and valuable time, effort and resources have been used to turn schools into glorified test preparation facilities.
  • They distract whole nations of adults and children on testing instead of real learning.
  • Standardized testing has instilled a a simplistic view of education in the public.
  • Standardized testing has narrowed and bastardized the definition of student achievement (read: high scores)
  • Teachers have lost their pedagogical autonomy to make decisions based on their own students' needs.
  • Assessment, which by definition should be a tool for teachers and students, has been hijacked by the government.
  • Authentic assessment practices such as performance assessments and portfolios have been largely ignored in favor of the standardized multiple choice test.
  • The unreasonable pressure associated with high stakes, standardized testing has corrupted our schools leading to a stack of cheating scandals.
  • Standardized testing has become a political weapon wielded by corporate reform efforts to link teacher pay to student test scores and eliminate tenure and collective bargaining which is nothing less than a direct assault on the teaching profession.
  • By directing our focus to the scores instead of the learning process, high-stakes testing makes it difficult to fully understand what exactly is happening in our schools, and it makes it even more difficult for teachers and students to engage in real learning.
  • Standardized tests are a major source of test anxiety which has grown into a subfield of educational psychology.
  • Formative assessment becomes enslaved by the desire for higher scores thus reducing formative assessment to nothing more than miniature summative assessments
  • As bad as teaching to the test can be, some classrooms have reduced themselves to testing to the test. Classroom time is devoured by not only the tests themselves but practice tests, pre and post tests, field tests for the tests, benchmark tests, teacher tests, district tests, and state or provincial tests.
  • Standardized tests both over-estimate and under-estimate the abilities and potential of children.
If you have more to add to this list, please do so with a comment.


  1. You need to visit Montessori Schools.. they work so well.. why they are not used as model for Public Education is so sad.. All of your concerns are addressed in a Montessori environment..

    Athena Melville - host
    Education Now!

  2. I have shared this link on the Education Now! Facebook page and my own fb wall..

  3. Nice column. I think that a good accountant would have a field day coming up with the actual dollar amount that standardized testing actual costs education in the U.S. I also think we would be amazed at how much that total is. There is some reason we are so hell-bent on securing standardized testing into the educational landscape and since it makes no sense at all in terms of educational best practices my guess is that it is making some people around and within education a tremendous amount of money.

  4. Florida requires that all students pass a standardized test - the FCAT for a high school diploma without having proven that a high FCAT score equals success in ones career and life. Minority and low income students generally do not do well on multiple choice tests, specially when they feel the pressure of negative expectations. This means that the test can become a "gate-keeper" that is, keeping a segment of the population out of jobs that require post-high school education. Could this be the secret agenda of many legislators? Who will do the menial work when we totally shut down access to fresh influxes of illegal immigrants?

  5. Standardized tests are not an investment, but unnecessary expenditure that aggravates the construction of the new, a waste of time and effort dynamite creativity and effort needed to build. They are part of a public system that has generated a lucrative private pockets that determine what should be taught and how to learn...

  6. Standardized tests for students disconnected from the real problems emerging in the 21st century. Students replicate the mistakes of others instead of learning from their owns. Standardized tests promote the known rather learn to transcend what is already known. Just looking to get the right answers instead of going after the doubt, questioning, exploration, invention and muliple human intelligence capabilities.

    The result: cognitive scarcity

  7. Oh no...this is going on in Canada, too???!! I was thinking of moving there in a couple of years. If I do, guess I can expect the same old thing as here, except with better health care.

  8. Schools are doing exactly what they were set up to do! Our education system is based on Prussia's model of schooling. It was never set up for real learning.

    First, our schools are not set up for learning but the conditioning of children "to obedience, subordination, and collective life". That's why memorization outranks thinking.

    Second, whole ideas are broken into fragmented "subjects" and school days are divided into fixed periods "so that self-motivation to learn would be muted by ceaseless interruptions."

    Third, the state is posited as the true parent of children. All of this was done in the name of a scientific approach to education.

  9. I am a Florida educator and we have actually taken classrooms away from kids, jammed them into overloaded classes already just so we could use the space for high stakes testing labs. It really should be criminal what we are doing in the name of education to our children. Schooling is not for learning!

  10. Great list.
    1. Mortgages individual kids' futures, our nation's future, and the world's by dumbing down education, in return for acquiescing to adult needs to quantify everything, and feel comfortable.
    2. Tells kids who are able that they are not, by narrowing the permissible means by which ability and skills and knowledge can be expressed.
    3. Disenfranchises kids from school, people from society.
    4. Negatively impacts the economy by suppressing creativity and innovation.
    5. Drives kids to places other than school to stretch, for school requires powering down.

  11. Imagine if the money spent on testing was invested in enabling learning. We hear so much around the world about schools not being able to afford to implement technology. The money is available - it is just being wasted on the wrong things!

  12. Testing should be limited but I not for eliminating it! I always felt inspired when I took standardized tests!

  13. Great post, as always, Joe. I also think it kills creativity, destroys critical thinking, and keeps kids from asking great questions. It eliminates the learning that comes from taking risks, being wrong, and learning how to look at things from different angles. How can we expect students to understand varying perspectives when there is only one right answer on the test? I have no problem with standards if they are tailored to meet the needs of individual students. But that is not what we are doing; we are trying to standardized children, and that is wrong.

  14. Excellent list. Keep fighting the good fight from your part of the world. I will retweet this post immediately. The more we speak up and spread the word, the more chance that sanity might return to our schools. But, it is a big battle, Brother! Lots of politics and big bucks in play. Won't be easy to affect the kind of change our children really need. Doesn't mean we should give up shouting from the rooftops. Consider this post retweeted! :)


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