It’s Test Season: Taking a look at standardized testing in schools

As standardized tests make their rounds in schools this spring, educators and parents continue to analyze their value.

Standardized testing has been a part of the American education system since the Industrial Age. Does it still belong, or is it doing more harm than good?

In the following excerpt, Alfred G. Binford, managing director of assessment and direct delivery at Pearson, defends standardized testing in a blog for the Washington Post:

Recognizing the need to better prepare students for success beyond high school, states have adopted new, more demanding academic learning standards (e.g., the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills; the Common Core State Standards). These standards will provide students with a solid foundation in reading and math. They’ll also improve on prior standards by helping build the skills employers say graduates need to compete in today’s global economy. That includes the ability to think critically, understand complex texts, analyze math problems, and collaborate with their peers. As an employer, I know these skills are what I look for, in addition to solid comprehension and numeracy.

The tests provide a way to assess students in math, reading, and critical thinking skills, but the implementation of testing in schools has its downsides.

Teaching to the Test

Among the popular criticisms is that teachers feel pressed to devote class time to test preparation—known as “teaching to the test”—by giving practice tests and developing exercises that mimic test questions. As a result, students lose out on lab experiments, field studies, or multi-media experiences that might be appealing, motivating, and… well, educational.

What About the Learner?

Patricia L. McMahon PhD, education professor and the director of Carlow University’s graduate program in High Performance Learning, says, “We are still so fiercely entrenched in the rut of standardization, uniformity, and control that we are missing the big picture: We need our children and adolescents to fall in love with learning, to learn how to inquire and actively participate in projects that fully engage them and through which they discover their distinctive talents so they can lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world.”

McMahon believes that schools will look very different in the future, led by educators who focus on individuals and embrace new tools, methods, and technologies.

She adds: “We need to shift our collective attention to the learner so that she or he can become a critical thinker and problem solver who possesses the capacity to imagine, deliberate, and create in a global society.”

The Future of Testing

Parents and educators alike to agree on preparing students for the future. But how should schools measure and report on their progress, without compromising the quality of education for each individual student? The educational system faces a real challenge in finding the right balance.

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