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What do standardized tests really measure? – edu|FOCUS
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Frustrated student

What do standardized tests really measure?

One of the major issues with education that most people take issue with is the level of importance placed on standardized testing. That’s not to say that standardized tests aren’t necessary as there are advantages to having a system to assess academics. But what do today’s standardized tests really measure? The ability to take tests, to put it simply.

I was one of those students who typically did well in school, getting decent grades, consistently making honor roll, the works. But when it came time to take tests, particularly state-wide assessment tests and the SATs, I always felt like my results didn’t accurately showcase my intelligence or my understanding of the material I had learned. I didn’t do poorly, but I wasn’t particularly noteworthy either. Just average. I was a good student, but a poor test-taker. The stress I felt from knowing that those tests would label me for my future didn’t help matters, but I think more importantly, I felt like the information I needed to do well was based on whether or not I could memorize enough figures and formulas for that moment.

This is a common occurrence among students across the country; that feeling of “all I need to do is remember enough for this moment, take the test, and forget everything immediately afterward to make room for the next topic”. And that mindset doesn’t always go away in college either. The obsession with grades being a way to prove intelligence is not the healthiest way to keep students motivated for the right reasons.

I had the privilege to attend a private liberal arts college where there was less of an emphasis on grades and more focus on what you took from the lessons. However, as I majored in English and theater, my classes were more arts-based; it is a little different grading someone on their creativity than it is on their ability to solve equations. But I think there is something that can be garnered from this.

For example, in one creative writing class I took, your final grade consists of attendance, participation, and whether or not you completed the assignments on time.  It didn’t necessarily matter if the story written was the next best-seller, as long as you put effort into your writing, provided constructive feedback for your peers, and was able to apply criticism to your own work, you could pass with a decent grade.  But it wasn’t the grade that was the most important thing, but how you personally showed growth as a writer, and applied what you learned last semester to your future classes.  Most professors take that aspect into consideration when passing or failing someone more so than whether or not a student simply checked off all the requirements on the syllabus.

My point is that if there was a way to incorporate this method of learning and grading into mathematics and science classes, I think there would be a lot more enthusiasm toward those subjects rather than the fear of failing. Standardized tests aren’t geared towards understanding how children use the information they learned which is a problem. I can only speak for myself, but if I had learned more ways to apply what I was learning to real life I’m sure I would have felt more comfortable being tested on those subjects, as I would know what they could be used for.  Knowing that those silly equations in algebra would make those calculus classes clearer, and in turn those calculus equations could lead to research or lab work that could do things like cure diseases or send us further into space sounds a lot more motivational than “so you’ll get good grades and be able to go to college.”

What are your opinions on the weight standardized testing puts on our children stakeholders? What were your experiences with tests when you were in school? Please share your thoughts and opinions with the community.

Tracey Woodard
No Comments
  • Meg
    Reply January 28, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Good article. I don’t think the PSSA (I live in PA) is a very good thing at all. My daughters are always stressing when it’s time to take them, and they always complain about how their classes get boring around test time. I think there might be a better way, but something has to be done about it and soon.

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