There are three valid reasons why standardized tests are harming public education. First, all students do not learn at the same pace and through the same methodology. Secondly, teacher promotions and continuing contracts are heavily involved with standardized test results. Lastly, these high stakes tests are affecting students in a way that is detrimental to society at large.
As both a learner and teacher, I am a huge fan of Harold Gardner. He is considered the father of “Multiple Intelligences,” which suggests that everyone possesses the ability to learn, but not just through “kill and drill” instruction. There are eight intelligences: bodily/kinesthetic (movement), interpersonal (relationships between persons), intrapersonal, (individual mind and self) verbal-linguistic (language), naturalistic (scientific observation), visual-spatial, and musical. When Gardner proposed the theory in 1983, he suggested that education should move to “individual-centered attention to tailor the needs of the child.” School systems across the country offer speciality magnet programs, which reflects an aspect of child-centered education. Standardized testing, in its sterile environmental conditions, focuses on two realms of multiple intelligences: verbal-linguistic and spatial concepts.
Teachers are increasingly under tremendous pressure for students to pass, from administrators to parents. Now the results are used to measure teacher effectiveness, an evaluation tool concerning the future in a school system. Speaking as a teacher, I do not need a test result to confirm my effectiveness in a classroom setting. In fact, I resent the fact a 100 percent passing rate makes me a superb instructor. My distinguished colleagues should not worry about their job security behind a standardized test. It is more and more a challenge to have the entire class of 35 students, a diverse group of future doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and electricians, care about the cultural characteristics of Central America or about order of operations in math. That is where the teacher introduces Gardner’s multiple intelligences and hopes that the material will become relevant. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to remediate or bring creativity in the classroom. The coursework is paced to the exact moment, with no room for Gardner. Teachers cannot encourage individual exploration and application.
What happens to the students who simply cannot keep up with the pace? By third grade, a child’s future is determined by a standardized test. If he or she cannot pass state standards by middle elementary grades, they are counted into the future prison population. The students who need intense remediation, who can benefit from retention to build the pre-requisite skills, are pushed into higher grades. Repeating a grade is considered negative to the child’s psyche, no matter the result several years later. If the state administrators have not noticed, drop out rates are increasing among high school students; so are the functional illiteracy (a person who has had some schooling but does not meet a minimum standard of literacy) rates in the United States. It is hard for me, as an alternative education instructor, to convince a 16-year-old eighth grader to remain in school, attend summer school, and earn a high school credential, especially when he or she equates failure by not passing standardized tests. While I am elated that students are pursuing GED credentials, we are losing too many high school students between 16 and 18 years old. By allowing the results of standardized testing as the measure of academic fitness is contributing to more dropouts, higher incidences of juvenile crimes during working hours, and perpetuating the significant link between lack of school and recidivism.
The preceding are three examples of why standardized tests have negatively changed the face of education. Students do not learn at the same pace and intensity. As a result, the field is losing quality teachers because of test scores. There is a mutual agreement by all parties involved that students can demonstrate their knowledge and for teachers to shine their knowledge and expertise in the classroom. Standardized testing is changing the classroom from individual thinkers to multiple-choice answer callers.