Standardized Tests

The process of teaching and testing can be compared to essential, basic baby care. We have to feed the baby several times a day, and then we have to weigh the baby periodically to ensure we are feeding the right stuff. The same applies to the teaching-testing process. A teacher’s fundamental task is to teach an adequate range of content and skills, allowing for appropriate activity and sensory experience to ensure on-going intellectual and cognitive development. Periodically, some kind of testing is needed to confirm that student learning is on the right track. The problem we seem to experiencing in recent times is that the relation between teaching and testing has become unclear. Testing has infringed on teaching time. We are weighing the baby too much and not feeding him enough.

Many educators, parents, and others who complain about standardized testing do so for the wrong reasons. There is nothing wrong with testing as such, but it can do immense harm when done arbitrarily or flippantly. Teachers administer their own relevant testing on a frequent and regular basis. They know what has been taught, and they know what the students are expected to know and do. This is intelligent testing that forms part of the teaching-learning process, because it gives useful information to both the teacher and the students. If the results of a test are poor, a good teacher takes ownership of that and reteaches the material to ensure better results next time. If the test results are good, that is an indication to move on. Official standardized testing controlled by an outside agency such as government or an education authority are generally unable to be useful in this way.

The main problem with official standardized testing is its limited scope and detachment from a real classroom situation. No test can cover the entire curriculum, and when immense pressure is placed on teachers and schools to obtain high scores on standardized tests, the students’ progress is likely to suffer. The reason for this is that the teacher’s attention is narrowly and artificially focussed on the test content rather than on the whole curriculum. It is estimated that standardized tests cover approximately 40% of the normal curriculum content, but this is what teachers must concentrate on to ensure high test results for the school. The other 60% tends to be neglected or discarded altogether.

Standardized testing can have a place in the overall picture if used correctly. But teachers must be allowed to teach their programs freely, administering their own assessments on a normal regular basis without regard for government tests. When official standardized tests are administered once a year, students will perform according to their ability, and teachers can use the results to adjust or modify their teaching. There should be no reflection on individual teachers or schools. Assessments of teacher performance or school achievements must be done in other, more appropriate ways.