In the past few weeks, many Advanced Placement students got too few hours of sleep, drank too much coffee and studied, arguably, too hard. A week from now, most students will be doing the same thing for finals. What makes all this testing so important?
Testing has been around for a long time, but in 2002 the United States increased its focus on standardized tests under the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated standardized testing in all 50 states to measure student learning. However, the push for increased standardized testing has not changed results very much.
In fact, there is an apparent racial achievement gap in standardized tests, especially in the case of SAT scores. While some have claimed this is due to genetic differences between races, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim. More likely, it is the socioeconomic environment in which each child is raised, the opportunities provided to them and perhaps their identification as a member of a stereotyped group.
Stanford University psychology professor Claude Steele calls this the “stereotype threat” and has experimented with the idea that black students could do worse in a situation that is associated with a negative stereotype. For example, after being told they would not do better than white people, black students performed worse than they otherwise would on a standardized test in a classroom with white students. These results were repeated with a mixed group of Asian and white men, and then later with women. Objectivity may be the key to effective standardized tests, but it is not a reliable method if the results can be skewed by a simple change in environment.
Test anxiety also appears to be a significant factor in test scores. Test anxiety rises in second to fourth grade students and an estimated 36 percent of all students are said to experience “moderately high” to “severe” test anxiety, according to the American Test Anxieties Association. Test anxiety can easily lead to avoidance of schoolwork and most students think test anxiety is normal. Some students even correlate poor test scores with a lack of intelligence, decreasing their self-esteem and confidence. That, combined with a national math and science ranking that has fallen since 2000 and a reading ranking that has not changed, demonstrates that the United States has not done the majority of its students right by standardized testing.
Perhaps it is easier to say that there is a problem with U.S. education, especially public education, than it may be to put all the blame on standardized tests. Some, like cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, recognize that standardized tests may not be a huge problem, although they do acknowledge tests need reforming. In his book, “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” Kaufman discusses how intelligences other than academic ability are often overlooked and that traditional techniques for measuring intelligence may be counterproductive to the learning and development of those other students.
The problem is finding test reforms that Americans agree with. While six out of 10 Americans recognize that student expectations for learning curriculum is important to school improvement, 54 percent reject the Common Core State Standards that 43 states have adopted, according to the Washington Post. Even more surprising, the U.S. has thrown money at this problem since before the NCLB Act passed Congress, yet students still suffer with failing test scores.
It seems that standardized tests are too integrated into our current education model to be scrapped completely, although it seems fewer and fewer people will stand aside as companies like College Board reap financial benefits from standardized testing.