Standardized tests play a key role in today’s education system. They can take the form of aptitude tests that measure scholastic readiness or achievement tests that measure subject-specific knowledge. But how well do standardized tests measure educational quality?
Arguments in Favor of Standardized Tests
There are various arguments in favor of standardized tests. Here are the main reasons why they are good for measuring educational quality.
Standardized Tests Enable Consistent Assessment
Every teacher grades pupils differently. When college admissions committees only see overall grade point averages, nuances between teachers with higher and lower expectations are lost. So, standardized testing can act as a balancing force. Standardized tests can provide colleges with objective data with which they can compare prospective candidates.
Standardized Tests Prepare Students for College
If students attend high schools that do not offer advanced placement courses or a large number of extracurricular activities, standardized testing can enable students to set themselves apart from their high schools. Tests like the ACT and SAT give students the chance to show they are smart and motivated, so they will not be judged on their high schools when applying for college. And passing some specific standardized tests is required to gain entry to some degree programs. For instance, passing the Law School Admission Test is vital for prospective law school students. As for LSAT dates and deadlines, the test is held four times a year, in February, June, September or October, and December, and the registration deadline is about one month before the test date.
If students are enrolled in highly competitive high schools, standardized testing can also be beneficial. That is because it enables students to show they are intelligent and qualified, even if being in a class of many high-achieving students prevents them from being top of their classes.
Arguments Against Standardized Tests
Opponents of standardized tests typically say the test promotes a teaching-to-the-exam study method, meaning students only learn-and-repeat what is required by the curriculum. The opponents say that undermines students’ abilities to innovate and critically think. They, therefore, believe that standardized tests are not the best way of measuring student performance.
Teaching to the Test
Standardized testing means the main focus is on obtaining high grades. That means teachers feel compelled to teach students solely so that they can pass the tests. And in some schools, teachers spend less time teaching the arts and social sciences because they feel it is more important to prepare students for standardized tests in areas like math and English. That can lead to a less-rounded education for students.
Multiple Choice Tests
Standardized tests consist of multiple-choice questions or open-ended questions, and some feature both. Opponents of standardized tests that only use the multiple-choice format say the tests are too simplistic and do not reflect accurate student intelligence. On the other hand, tests that feature open-ended questions enable students to show their knowledge and apply critical thinking, often through extended responses.
Standardized tests are good because they are quantifiable and enable comparisons. But, as noted above, there is a negative side to standardized testing. There are other measures that can show how well schools and students are performing, such as graduation rates, enrollments in advanced placements and other college prep courses, and college remediation rates for recent high school graduates.
So, do standardized tests measure educational quality? Yes, they do. However, if they are used as the sole source of measuring educational quality, they are not wholly reliable. Standardized tests should be just one of many measures that are used to evaluate students’ abilities and their readiness for college or a career.