In The Myths of Standardized Tests, the authors write about why it is necessary for us to stop for a moment and think about what standardized tests are capable of telling us and what we really want to know. The premise behind their book is that these are not always the same things. Far too many assumptions underlie standardized testing.
Standardized testing is a topic most people do not reflect on because we lack the time, effort and expertise. Nonetheless, here are some of their questions to encourage some serious thought:
- Have you ever thought about how well students' knowledge and skills can be assessed by the limited sample of content included in a forty-five question test? What does a score on that test tell you about the vast range of content that simply can't be included?
- Have you ever talked about the high achievement at a particular school when all you really knew about the school was the average test scores of its students?
- Have you ever argued -- or heard someone argue -- that what we need is objective information about student achievement? For most people that word objective used in a school context automatically means standardized test scores and very little else.
- Have you or your school system every handed out punishments or rewards to schools, to teachers, or to individual children based on their test scores? How motivational are such practices?
- Have you ever thought that improvement in scores on "high stakes" tests is a sound indicator of improvement in learning?
- Have you ever wondered about whether the tests have an effect on the curriculum and on classroom life? Have you ever questioned what's left out to make time for the tests themselves and for the often extensive preparation for them?
- Have you ever given more weight to an "indirect" measure (a standardized test score) of student achievement than to a "direct" assessment of achievement? Direct assessments range from judgements teachers make to your own reading of your children's work to the response of those who attend a school performance or a school open house.
- Have you ever thought that moving to a district or attendance area with high test scores would mean high achievement and success in life for your children? How well do standardized tests forecast future success in school, of course, but also throughout life?
Standardized testing will never be confused with something fun to think about or do, but neither is cancer. Until good people take the time and effort to become knowledgable and skillful, bad things will continue to happen.