8 Cons of Standardized Tests: Bad, Racially Biased & Should Be Abolished!

Standardized testing has made several generations suffer as a result of its anxiety-inducing pressure on students to score well to live the rest of their lives comfortably. There’s no telling how many students would have ended up with the profession of their choice if they weren’t compelled to sit through a discriminatory and parochial method of testing students’ vast talents. Let’s take a look at why standardized testing is slowly colonizing the minds of American children and setting them up for a moral collapse. Here are several cons & reasons for standardized tests being bad, racially biased and why they should be abolished immediately.

children in elementary school

Statistics

First up, let us look at the facts. Standardized testing has its roots in ancient China’s Han dynasty. What can be more proof to the modern reader to know that Ancient Greece had passed down open-ended debates and democratic and fair methods to Western academia and Europe was skeptical in adopting these methods. To examine out their worth, Great Britain implemented them in their colonies like British India first. It is then a thought-provoking question to the educators and lawmakers of America, of why an orthodox method of colonization is now a widespread practice in 21st century America.

Right from the beginning of their childhood in kindergarten and up to high school graduation, American students are judged based on their ability to memorize facts and transfer them onto paper. The average student is compelled to take at least 10 of these exams each year.

Not only this, but these examinations are also heavy on the pocket of the US government. Each year about $1.7 billion is spent on such exams. Imagine the progression of the US education system if this money was spent on making learning more creative, fair, and inclusive.

child in a classroom

History of the phenomenon

As mentioned above, testing has its roots in China but it began to be adopted in the West during the first World War and one of the major factors that contributed to its increased use was the industrial revolution which started in Great Britain.

In the mid-nineteenth century, as more and more children were expected to move out of the countryside and into the factory, standardized testing became a quick and easy way to examine these students and supposedly ‘ease’ their transition.

In the wake of the Great War, young men became the targets of Alpha and Beta testing to sort their abilities and allocate them suitable assignments. Even after the war, standardized testing became a benchmark to get into good colleges and universities and was used by US educators to tighten the gates as a result of a high number of applications. By 1926, the SAT was brought out based on the Army IQ test and in 1959, the ACT was offered for the first time. Today, good scores on both these oppressive tests provide the entryway into a small chance that a good university will accept a student with multiple talents and skills.

      1. Stress and anxiety statistics

A group of researchers from Naval Postgraduate School, Northwestern University, and Texas A&M University conducted a study on students of the New Orleans charter school network. They looked at the level of cortisol in the spit of students in weeks of high-stakes testing and other days of no test-taking. Cortisol is the hormone of the human body that can be thought of as an in-built alarm system. Its presence in high concentration indicates the body is stressed or under a flight-or-fight type of situation. Having high cortisol in the body for a longer period can result in many chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, and clinical depression.

In light of this information, the findings of the New Orleans study were eye-opening. Not only did the students have a 15% higher rate of cortisol on days of testing, but the students who showed the highest range differences of cortisol between the two tended time periods tended to perform worse on standardized examinations. If this wasn’t alarming enough, a shocking low drop of cortisol in some students on testing days isn’t a good indicator either. Such a statistic indicates that the body does not find the examination pleasant and therefore simply does not want to engage with it.

Furthermore, a school psychologists study found in New York’s public school students that 76% of the respondents felt that anxiety was higher for state assessments than it was for local assessments. A previous board member of the National Association of School Nurses reported that she saw an increased number of cases of anxiety and stress in her school in connection to the emphasis on standardized testing. It’s scary to imagine the anxiety that homeschoolers would have to face when they sit under unfamiliar and pressurizing settings like these.

Alliance for Childhood reported that physiological symptoms of such exam stress were noted to be vomiting, headaches, stomachaches, depression, sleeping problems difficulty sleeping or staying awake, and even anger issues. Such negative effects on students mental and physical health make us question “is it even worth it?”.

  1. An unreliable measure of student performance that do not measure intelligence or educational quality

It’s not just the mental stress and adverse physiological effects that are harmful to students. If the actual results measured anything useful or provided information regarding important factors about the student’s skills and talents, it would be worth arguing for.

Students spend months or even years preparing for state-level examinations and are judged on their ability to memorize textbooks and pen them down. Their performance of a couple of hours on a singular day is used to assess their intelligence. Factors like the students’ health, stress, family background, financial state, and other factors are not accounted for when assessing this performance.

Other methods like college applications essays hold the ability to glimpse into the mind of the student and their capabilities and thus are far smarter ways to evaluate students.

Moreover, even teachers are compelled to teach to the test as educators’ worth is also assessed on the scores of their students. This is where real learning is diminished in the classroom, where teachers and students both focus on ‘getting the test right’ rather than learning the lesson.

      1. What they don’t measure

How could an excellent artist’s ability be measured by solving math equations? How could a future retail business owner be assessed on their ability to assess grammar and punctuation? Furthermore, is it fair to compel a bilingual immigrant student to be assessed on their English skills? Or force students from violent neighborhoods and low-income backgrounds to take the same tests as high-income group students?

Many researchers have found that doing well on them does not correlate to a high ability to process knowledge or have excellent problem-solving skills. Rather it simply means that the student does well at memorization and processing them into multiple-choice questions.

      1. Cultural and racial bias

The National Centre for Children in Poverty has recorded that 58% of children from Hispanic families and 61% of children from Black families are from low-income groups. Furthermore, a CNBC story quotes that wealthier children tend to do better on standardized tests. There is a larger part of the picture that we’re missing, then?

Ibram Kendi of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at Boston University states that these states have become the “most effective racist weapon” ever developed to intentionally keep Brown and Black students out of good schools.

The National Education Association has maintained that decades’ worth of research clearly points to the conclusion that these tests exhibit a racial and cultural bias towards Hispanic, Black, and some Asian communities.

      1. Private schools and Standardized Tests

We don’t have to stress how prestigious inner schools have become strict gatekeepers of a larger racist institution. But let’s go into the basics. Good private schools require that a certain score range must be achieved in order to be eligible for applying. But gruesome research has enabled colleges to identify which results are not usual for Black, Hispanic, and Brown communities. In this manner, they can systematically keep out BIPOC students from elite private schools.

Fair Test Research notes that on average, students of color end up scoring lower on private school admission tests. But rather than asking “What’s wrong with the practice?”, we end up questioning “what’s wrong with the student?”.

university class being taught

      1. Articles against the practice

CPR News has titled its article “More testing means more stress for teens – and there’s no solution in sight”. The headline alone should is enough to give goosebumps to any parent, student, or dedicated teacher. It’s not only the pressure of being defined by these grades and scores, CPR notes, but rather also the stress that comes with taking on the responsibility of paying off highly unaffordable school fees.

ProCon.org states the Stereotype threat looms heavy over all students. This refers to the self-fulfilling prophecies like “Girls can’t do maths” or “Latinos can’t excel in English”. Students belonging to those groups will be under crippling anxiety during the test due to the pressure of performing well to outdo the stereotype.

Forbes has reported a lawsuit where opponents are claiming that the University of California should do away with the SAT and ACT requirements for meeting eligibility of admissions. The article reports that research does support that they overlook racial and economic bias and even children with disabilities. It’s clear that it is one of the medieval strategies of oppressing students until they become abiding and silent citizens of the country.

The Harbinger has also reportedly asked for the elimination of standardized testing as it can damage the self-confidence of young, innocent minds before they even enter the real world. Certain families, they report, are not even wealthy enough to pay for the fees that colleges require for their admissions process, simply in order to live up to the necessary requirements.

      1. What type of thinking do they measure in schools?

The Executive Director of Education and Workplace Development states that in the last 20 years since it was made compulsory by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy, standardized testing has had no real influence on improving children’s learning. Instead, US students have slipped from rank 14 in the year 2000 in Math to rank 40 by 2015 on a global ranking scale. So what do they even measure?

Educators claim that testing certain areas like Languages, Science, Mathematics, and Reasoning helps identify the student’s strong and weak points depending on the results. But it is a quick and short way of evaluating only a limited amount of knowledge. If an accurate system was used to evaluate all domains of a student’s knowledge, the list would be far too long. The result is cruel. Students are subjected to grueling months of memorization and practice, sometimes on areas, they would most likely never require for life skills. Standardized tests hence only measure how good students are at taking tests in an educational setting and how well teachers can prepare these students for such a calamity.

Types

There are many types of these discriminatory practices taken by thousands of students annually. Here is a list of the most common ones:

  • Norm-referenced: These develop the results based on how well the student performed or rather outperformed, the norm group. The norm group is the sample group that takes the test while it is being made. So a result of 34 percentile would mean the student did better than 34 percent of the norm group. The norm group could include students from any state for instance, Georgia, Iowa and Florida to maintain diversity.
  • Criterion-referenced: These refer to ones that assess one specific criterion. For instance, second graders can be assessed if they can or cannot identify odd numbers from even numbers. Then they would be put into the reductionist categories of basic, proficient, or mastery regarding a certain domain.

Examples of such in the US include the SAT, STAR , PARCC and SBAC, AP exams, GRE exams, the LCAT, MCAT, and WorkKeys.

Alternatives

The National Education Association has time and time again made their dissent towards standard tests clear. It has also proposed several alternatives that can prove to be remedial measures for the American Education System and revive its ranking in the world as well. Not only are they designed to explore a student’s vast potential, but are also free of racial and cultural bias.

teacher by a white board

  • Teacher-developed alternatives – When teachers will design ways of evaluating students themselves, they will be able to teach what they please and assess students in the best manner. Not only this, but they can also make different tests keeping in mind certain learning disabilities and disorders that students often suffer from. Since teachers know their students best, they can even talk them through the areas they did not perform well and re-test to make sure learning is actually taking place.
  • Teacher-student, as well as Teacher-student-parent interviews – Sometimes oral evaluations, make the student more comfortable, especially if it’s with a familiar face. This type doesn’t have to feel like a deadly exam and can be just a friendly conversation.
  • Performance contracts – These help the students achieve what they want to learn and improve, rather than pushing a square peg on a round hole.

What do they REALLY measure?

It’s clear from so many statistics and sources that continual standardized testing can lead to the downfall of the American youth’s bright minds and set them up for failure before they even begin their journey into an array of possibilities. They only measure the rote memorization of students and their ability to mug up facts and vomit them onto answer sheets and should be done away with for good.

It’s high time we adopt a more inclusive and culturally appropriate method of teaching and evaluating our students in a manner that doesn’t harm their self-esteem and induces chronic stress disorders. Once we do this, then educators and policymakers can really say that No Child was Left Behind.

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