Standardized Testing: Good or Bad?

Olivia Jessup


1. Standardized tests are reliable and objective measures of student achievement. Without them, policy makers would have to rely on tests scored by individual schools and teachers who have a vested interest in producing favorable results. Multiple-choice tests, in particular, are graded by machine and therefore are not subject to human subjectivity or bias.

2. Standardized tests are inclusive and non-discriminatory because they ensure content is equivalent for all students. Former Washington, DC, schools chancellor Michelle Rhee argues that using alternate tests for minorities or exempting children with disabilities would be unfair to those students: "You can't separate them, and to try to do so creates two, unequal systems, one with accountability and one without it. This is a civil rights issue."

3. China has along tradition of standardized testing and leads the world in educational achievement. China displaced Finland as number one in reading, math, and science when Shanghai debuted on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in 2009. Despite calls for a reduction in standardized testing, China's testing regimen remains firmly in place. Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chairman of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, predicts that Chinese cities will top the PISA charts for the next several decades.

4. "Teaching to the test" can be a good thing because it focuses on essential content and skills, eliminates time-wasting activities that don't produce learning gains, and motivates students to excel. The US Department of Education stated in Nov. 2004 that "if teachers cover subject matter required by the standards and teach it well, then students will master the material on which they will be tested--and probably much more."

5. Testing is not too stressful for students. The US Department of Education stated: "Although testing may be stressful for some students, testing is a normal and expected way of assessing what students have learned." A Nov. 2001 University of Arkansas study found that "the vast majority of students do not exhibit stress and have positive attitudes towards standardized testing programs." Young students vomit at their desks for a variety of reasons, but only in rare cases is this the result of testing anxiety.

6. Cheating by teachers and administrators on standardized tests is rare, and not a reason to stop testing America's children.The Mar. 2011 USA Today investigation of scoring anomalies was inconclusive, and found compelling suggestions of impropriety in only one school. It is likely that some cheating occurs, but some people cheat on their tax returns also, and the solution is not to abolish taxation.


1. Standardized testing has not improved student achievement. After No Child Left Behind (NCLB) passed in 2002, the US slipped from 18th in the world in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading. A May 26, 2011, National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working: "Despite using them for several decades, policymakers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education."

2.Standardized tests measure only a small portion of what makes education meaningful. According to late education researcher Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, qualities that standardized tests cannot measure include "creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity."

3. "Teaching to the test" is replacing good teaching practices with "drill n' kill" rote learning. A five-year University of Maryland study completed in 2007 found "the pressure teachers were feeling to 'teach to the test'" since NCLB was leading to "declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum."

4. Standardized testing causes severe stress in younger students. According to education researcher Gregory J. Cizek, anecdotes abound "illustrating how testing... produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both." [7] On Mar. 14, 2002, the Sacramento Bee reported that "test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it."

5. America is facing a "creativity crisis," as standardized testing and rote learning "dumb down" curricula and jeopardize the country's economic future. A 2010 College of William & Mary study found Americans' scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been dropping since 1990, and researcher Kyung-Hee Kim lays part of the blame on the increase in standardized testing: "If we neglect creative students in school because of the structure and the testing movement... then they become underachievers."

6. Using test scores to reward and punish teachers and schools encourages them to cheat the system for their own gain. A 2011 USA Today investigation of six states and Washington DC found 1,610 suspicious anomalies in year-over-year test score gains.

"If we neglect creative students in school because of the structure and the testing movement... then they become underachievers." - Kyung-Hee Kim

My Opinion

I believe that standardized testing is an inaccurate system for intelligence. Some students have "test and performance anxiety" which causes them to not do well on standardized tests, no matter how hard they study. Other students aren't good test takers, which makes tests in general difficult. The fact that standardized tests make up a good portion of your final grade, doesn't make it any easier. Also standardized tests hamper the creativity of students who are more arts associated. It forces them to get out of their artsy state of mind. This makes students, after years of doing this, less innovative.