The Issues with Standardized Testing: Critical Analysis

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Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote reflects a common feeling among many students. This feeling is by no means new. In 1901, the College Examination Board was created in the United States. They put in place standards for testing. The tests given would examine the knowledge of students in nine different subjects. This test was to be the same across the whole country and give each student a fair chance. From the first tests, educators and students alike have agreed on the poor method of how the tests are produced and graded. The results lead to schools, teachers, and students being ranked by their success on the tests.

The way that these tests are run does not help teachers or students. Standardized testing should not be used to evaluate the performance of a school, teachers, or students. Standardized testing is not fair and does not accurately represent the knowledge of the students or the success of teachers. Standardized testing causes teachers to teach primarily the information for tests and stray from original lesson plans. Critics have questioned if passing the tests indicates academic achievement or if it shows how well teachers are “teaching to the tests.” Teachers begin to lose the chance to teach problem solving skills and the free exchange of ideas in their education. In the words of Richard Kahlenberg, of the Education Century Foundation, “Teaching involves too many variables to be judged effectively by test scores. In addition, such a system encourages teachers to compete against each other rather than to work together” (“Education Reforms Effectiveness” 1). This proves that teachers have begun to compete with each other in certain districts. While competition normally improves people by making them strive to be better, with educators, it leads to a lack of shared resources or ideas between colleagues.

This competition was spurred by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which was an act of Congress to close the educational achievement gap between students with accountability, flexibility, and choice. NCLB was highly popular at first but enthusiasm for it gradually faded. Many teachers have said that they feel the need to prepare students more for the standardized tests. This has become overwhelming and has forced them to neglect valuable lessons and subjects in their classes (“Education Reforms Effectiveness” 1). Tests have changed from seeing where students need extra help, to being used solely for judging teachers’ pay and other monetary things. According to the University of Minnesota study of exit exams, “High school graduates in states that mandated exit exams did not earn more or have a lower unemployment rate than students in states without exit exams.” (“Should We Even Require Exit Exams” 1). This shows how standardized testing doesn’t necessarily improve students’ progress or knowledge. There is no proof that giving standardized tests helps students excessively. The sheer volume of tests does not advance students’ knowledge for post-high school college or careers. By forcing students to take tests, administrators are forcing teachers to prepare students only for those tests. This is taking time away from other important lessons.

Many may argue standardized testing provides benchmarks for parents and teachers to see their students’ knowledge and progress. This data is often used to compare the individual to other students in the class, city, or country. The tests can help identify problem areas in individual students, as well as showing where school districts fall behind in certain fields of teaching. Standardized tests prevent from subjective grading. Many believe they help to eliminate bias among students and help to ensure fairness in grading. But with testing for progress, tests only show a one time snapshot of knowledge. The results do not show how far the student has come, or what they have learned. Standardized tests fit perfectly to a certain set of students who can regurgitate the information they've memorized. Tests have become more about memorizing, testing, forgetting the information, and repeating the process over again for the next test. Students are learning to become test-takers by memorizing rules and standards with very little learning. In states that require exit exam testing, the policymakers have set very high standards for the tests. This was designed to ensure that only well-prepared students graduate. However, if standards are set unreasonably high, this harms the percentage of students that graduate.

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The end result is the bar being set lower so that the majority of high school seniors can pass and the school looks good. This allows for little to no improvement of education and still prevents a select few from not even graduating (“Continuing Debate on Exit Exams” 1). Standardized testing is unfair because there is no way to give each student the exact same atmosphere. Tests are not personalized to each student. But there is no way to adapt the tests to each student’s needs. One group of students who would benefit from personalized tests is known as the “thinking test-taker.” These are students who take their time to get to the correct answer and are punished with a test time limit. Many teachers advise their students to dumb down and quickly think to get through every question and do better on tests (“Case Against Standardized Testing” 1). There are also external factors that affect the way a student performs on a test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that “the combination of four variables (number of parents living at home, parents educational background, type of community, and poverty rate) accounted for an 89 percent of the difference in states scores across the country.” (“Standardized Testing and Its Victims” 1). This shows that tests can’t account for what happens outside the classroom. Each student goes through something completely different that may affect how they test. Standardized tests don’t always take into consideration disabled or special need students. In 2008, the California Department of Education released data saying that 46% of 4,000 students with disabilities failed that year’s exit exam (“Effects of the California High School Exit Exam” 1). Due to this, an organization representing the rights of disabled individuals initiated a class-action lawsuit against the State of California. A representative of this group, Sid Wolinsky, called the exit exam requirement an “unmitigated disaster” and noted that “you can’t be a janitor in the Oakland School District without a high school diploma.” (“Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas” 1). This shows that denying diplomas to students with learning disabilities robs them of essential work opportunities after high school. There are a very limited set of opportunities for a job if you have not gotten your high school diploma. The increasing number of tests has caused testing anxiety among students.

Previous generations have taken standardized tests but not as many compared to today’s students. Today’s tests are given frequently and play a outsized role in teaching and learning. The United States tests as young as six years old. (“Case Against Standardized Testing” 1). This is despite the fact that many experts who have specialized in childhood education have condemned this idea. It is hard to find any other country who gives multiple choice tests at as young as 6 years old. According to Justin Barterian, Professor of School Psychology at Michigan State University, “Studies estimate that between 10% and 40% of all students experience some level of test anxiety that can surface as early as age seven, and women, minorities, and those with disabilities are more likely to face it.” (Rich 1). Testing anxiety has grown to be a huge issue of educational psychology. Tests produce an inaccurate representation of what students know. The more weight on the test, the more anxiety students are likely to attach to the test, causing less accurate scores to be recorded. Students have fear of failure from the pressure to perform.

Members of the opposing view, such as school district administrators, might think that more practice of tests may reduce students’ stress when having to take them. But to effectively reduce stress would take away more class time and require students taking more tests for practice. If students have poor testing history, they may walk into the test with a negative mindset, and this will influence their performance negatively. Students and teachers alike do not truly benefit from standardized testing. It causes competition between students and teachers, which causes lack of resources and preparation. Teachers are preparing students more for standardized tests than for careers, college, or life in general. Students have unfair testing opportunities and these tests have negatively affected students by placing an undue amount of anxiety on them. There are better ways to assess students’ knowledge besides standardized testing.

Works Cited

  1. Alcocer, Paulina. “History of Standardized Testing in the United States.” NEA, National Education Association,
  2. Dillon, Sam. 'Obama Calls for Major Change in Education Law.' New York Times, March 13, 2010,
  3. Hernandez, Nelson. 'As Seniors Graduate, Debate Continues on Exit Exams.' Washington Post, May 25, 2009,
  4. Kohn, Alfie. “The Case against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools.” Teacher Renewal, July 2006,
  5. Testing, Testing, Testing.pdf. 'Obama Administration Education Policy: Are the education reforms enacted by the administration of President Barack Obama (D) effective?' Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 5 Apr. 2010,
  6. 'Parties Settle Disabilities Assessment Lawsuit.' Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, August 2, 2004,
  7. Reardon, Sean, et al. 'Effects of the California High School Exit Exam on Student Persistence, Achievement, and Graduation.' Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice, April 21, 2009,
  8. Rich, John D., et al. “The Relationship between Deductive Reasoning Ability, Test Anxiety, and Standardized Test Scores.” Journal of Research in Education, 30 Apr. 2011, AND test&pg=5&id=EJ923912.
  9. 'Standardized High School Exit Exams: Should all U.S. states require high school students to pass standardized exit exams to graduate?'Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 16 Oct. 2009,
  10. “Standardized Tests -” ProConorg Headlines, 'Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas.' National Center for Fair and Open Testing, May 2, 2008,
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