How Standardized Tests Impact how Teachers Teach

When inclusion and accommodation are the rallying cries of modern day education, it is hard to imagine what place standardized testing has in the classroom. It is entirely at odds with the proven notions that all children are different, have unique skill sets unique learning styles, and yes – unique testing styles as well. As teachers strive to help every student flourish, one has to wonder what impact standardized testing must have on them.

It is readily apparent that the first impact standardized testing has upon teachers is frustration. State-mandated testing takes up an immense amount of time both in preparation and actual test-taking. It interrupts normal classroom procedures, and significantly diminishes the time a teacher can spend teaching the material they long to share with their students – the same material that could be spurring a love of learning in those same students. Instead, teachers sacrifice their time and talents, monitoring stacks of bubble-in-your-answer tests while students struggle wearily through tests they could care no less about. Teachers become teachers because they have a passion for their subject and for learning. They never become teachers for a love of standardized testing, and every moment that it burdens them is a frustration, building stress.

Standardized testing is designed to focus on “core” material. Generally speaking, this amounts to the bare-bones basics required to have a grasp of the subject. A remote panel of experts decides what material is most important. There is little to no consideration given to areas that are of interest to students, because that is not considered relevant. By taking away the interest, standardized testing helps to doom students to boredom as teachers are forced to present the mandated basics instead of developing concepts to their fullest, fascinating real-world extents. Without the rigid structure set by the demands of standardized testing, a teacher could explore with her students how their interests intertwine with the topic at hand. The geometry teacher might well have a class that was obsessed by world cup soccer (football outside the U.S.) for instance. She might then explore three-dimensional objects constructed from polygons (like a soccer ball) – a well-developed branch of geometry, though more advanced than likely to be found on a standardized test. When the interest is there, students are capable of much more than mere basics – and they have the impetus to try. A teacher would love to capitalize on such opportunities, but cannot, for they must adhere to the test topics.

Standardized tests are not designed with special learning needs in mind. The assumption is that anyone can read a question and bubble in an appropriate response. Anyone who ever struggled with standardized tests knows this to be false. Teachers also know it. They know that the same student, asked the same question three different ways, will often not give the same answer to each. For many students, “objective” tests are the hardest of all. There is no room for expressing what they actually think or understand – only a choice of which answer they think is best. There is no partial credit, no scaffolding to help them make that final step when they almost know the answer, and (from many students’ perspectives) no hope of passing. The teacher must focus on teaching “test-taking skills” to help the students succeed at taking a test over material that is far below what they could have been learning. The irony, of course, is that objective tests are all but absent in the adult world. There, actual performance and spoken and written communication play much more vital roles. Again, the teacher is thwarted in her responsibilities to the students – forced to cater instead to the test.

Standardized testing is a tool that allows monitoring of schools for any number of purposes. It provides an objective evaluation, as no opinions are involved in the scoring of such a test. This is a small positive, since it prevents abuse of funding systems. Unfortunately, “objective” is not synonymous with “accurate” or “meaningful”. By stifling the learning environment, standardized tests limit what teachers are able to help their students achieve. The tests’ very presence makes schools less effective. They establish lower goals than any teacher would set for her students, and they make it more difficult to meet those goals by restricting the evaluation to a single instrument – the test itself. More than just a thorn in the side or a stone in the shoe, standardized testing is more than a nuisance to teachers. Standardized testing does nothing less than cripples a teacher’s ability to teach.