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7.6: What are the effects of standardized testing on school curricula?

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    by Angela Marcotte

    Learning Objectives

    • distinguish between benefits and downfalls of standardized testing
    • know how standardized tests are utilized
    • determine who is being held accountable by standardized testing


    Testing students has been around since the time of Socrates. For instance, in order to better guide a student in his or her learning, the teacher would ask students questions to measure what has been absorbed from his teachings. Since the first World War, standardized tests have been used to "sort, track and stratify individuals and groups... for employment, higher education and the professions." (Scherer, 2005). More recently, as an admission requirement for colleges and universities, the SAT and ACT standardized tests are claimed to be useful tools in determining college readiness (Giuliano, 2006, 80).

    Within the past decade, state and national governments have made annual administration of standardized testing mandatory. The original goal of standardized testing was to help administrators and government officials determine if progress was being made in the education of our youth.

    The View of the Supporters

    Some believe there are pros to standardized testing. Because many standardized tests consist of true-false or multiple choice questions, the scoring can be done expediently and rather inexpensively. Many of the exams given to students today are scored by computers rather than by people (K12 Academics). Scantron sheets are fed into a machine and read, grading papers in a reasonable time period. Computers can grade multiple tests with minimal errors. It would likely take a teacher longer to grade exams by hand, with an opportunity for errors and bias. Rather than measuring the students' mastery of the subject, a teacher may take into account his or her personal feelings of the student when grading an essay or free writing. Another example would be human error. If the person grading the exam is distracted, he or she may mark something incorrectly.

    Many supporters believe standardized assessments are the best way to guarantee high principles of learning and accountability. It is believed that the tests convey what is expected of students and education professionals. Exams measure levels of progress and where it is being made. The reasoning behind accountability is that educators should be making progress and the improvements should be apparent in the results of the students’ exams(Giuliano, 2006).

    The View of the Opposition

    Opponents to standardized testing feel that a single test is not an accurate assessment of performance. Some argue that because of the pressure put on accountability testing, children are denied access to a more challenging, diverse curriculum. Others believe that rather than using a more sophisticated thought process, which may call for more of an explanation, students are given test questions that are based on rote memorization. While this form of testing will evaluate knowledge, it does not evaluate how and why the students came to their conclusion.(Popham, 2004).

    According to Alfie Kohn, author of The Case Against Standardized Testing, the content and format of instruction are affected by standardized testing in that what is tested becomes the focus or curriculum for the school year. Furthermore, Kohn explains that many people feel that standardized testing has caused a “dumbing” down on the American education system (Kohn, 2000, p29).

    Due to the pressure put on teachers for their students to succeed, many educators do not spend time on curriculum that is not going to be covered on the standardized tests. A teacher may instead fixate on the test rather than focusing on the meaningful learning of the tested material. If the students do poorly on the exams, it affects the amount of school funding provided by the government, in addition to affecting the employment of many qualified teachers. (Popham, 2004, p. 167-168)


    "If instruction focuses on the test, students have few opportunities to display the attributes of higher-order thinking such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creativity, which are needed for success in school, college and life." (Neill, 2006).


    "While state accountability tests are important, they do not give a full picture of student learning... there are usually some important educational goals that aren't easily assessed in a large-scale, standardized way" (Jay McTighe, in an interview by Judith Richardson, 2009).

    In Summary

    There are many conflicting views regarding the validity and necessity of standardized testing. While there is a serious need to measure the progress and capabilities of a school, its teachers, and its students, there are more opportunities available than one year-end test.

    Author's Comments

    As a parent and future educator, I have mixed feelings regarding standardized assessments. I believe that all schools, teachers, and students must be evaluated to ensure that proper instruction and an understanding of material is being put forth. However, I feel that one test should not be the final judgment. I am more concerned with the importance placed on a single group of tests than I am with standardized testing in general. There are many options for evaluation and many different factors that affect the way students test.


    Giuliano, G. (2006). Education: meeting America's needs? Detroit:Thomson Gale.

    K12 academics: Standardized testing. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2009, from

    Kohn, A. (2000). The case against standardized testing: Raising scores, ruining the schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

    Neill, M. (2006, March/April). The case against high-stakes testing. Principal 85. (4) 28-32.

    Popham, W.J.(2004). The no win accountability game. Letters to the next president: What we can do about the real crisis in public education. Ed. Carl Glickman New York: Teachers College Press. 166-173.

    Richardson, J.(2009, February). Evidence of learning: A conversation with Jay McTighe. The Education Digest 74 (6). 37-42.

    Sacks, P. (1999). Standardized minds: The high price of America's testing culture and what we can do to change it. Cambridge, MA:Perseus Books.

    Scherer, M. (2005, November). Reclaiming testing. Educational Leadership 63 (3).9-9. Retrieved February 3, 2009 from Education Research Complete database.