Should K-12 Students Be Required to Complete Standardized Minimum Skills Tests?
Overview/BackgroundFormer President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act outlined extensive new testing and accountability requirements. Students are be required to take standardized read, math, and science tests. Some would argue the act should go even further into other subjects of study. The idea behind the act is to provide tougher standards to push students and to prevent children who clearly don't meet the requirements of a certain grade level from advancing. The debate centers on whether or not this improves the education level of students and whether the requirements are fair.
It improves the accountability of students and schools.
Virtually all of us sometimes need a push to study and do our best. Unfortunately, schools and teachers around the country
have relaxed their standards for two main reasons: 1) To end the disparity between the best achieving students and the worst,
2) To be more popular. In other words, teachers want to be well-liked by their students and don't want the bottom
part of the class to feel bad. Unfortunately, these relaxing of standards dissuades students from doing their best.
If a student can do very little studying and still get an A, why would they try harder? Mandatory testing ensures
that students are required to learn a minimum amount of material no matter who their teachers are and no matter
which schools they go to. Mandatory testing also improves the accountability of schools. If an inordinate amount
of students from a certain school are failing the tests, if gives the government an idea where it should concentrate
its time and resources. We can find underfunded schools. We can also reward the best schools. Simply publishing the
overall scores of certain schools would give parents an idea which schools are best. This would lead to competition,
and we all know that competition is always better for the consumer, in this case the student.
It motivates students to really learn the material rather than just memorize for tests.
American students at all levels have become specialists at memorization. Cramming the night before a test has become
the norm rather than the slow, methodical approach that yields more lasting results. If students know they have to
take a standardized test at the end of the year, they have added incentive to focus on really learning the material
rather than just learning enough to get a good grade in their class. Since they will face future standardized
exams, it will open their minds to different study techniques that ensure the knowledge will stick. Not every student
is going to change their approach, but any additional source of motivation is beneficial.
Knowledge is cumulative, so a student doing poor early can end up behind indefinitely.
To learn to read, you must understand the alphabet and phonics. To learn history and English, you need to understand
how to read and write. To learn algebra and geometry, you must know how to add and subtract. To learn chemistry, you
have to understand algebra. Knowledge of school material is cumulative. If you struggle with a subject such as math
yet pass anyway, chances are you're going to struggle in algebra. The problem might not be that algebra is
particularly difficult, but that you don't understand the basic math part of it. In this country, it's become an
all too common of a practice to advance students to the next grade level despite the fact they don't have minimum
understanding of the material. Because of the cumulative nature of their studies, students find school tougher and
tougher as time goes by. Students fall further behind and become more discouraged. Standardized testing would ensure
that students aren't pushed into a grade level they aren't ready for. Isn't it much better to have a student repeat
one year than end up behind the rest of his or her school career, and be discouraged from learning in the process?
Comparative performance can be tracked to gauge improvement between classes and students.
Every year, teachers would have an objective grading system to see how they did. Thus, they could compare teaching
techniques from one year to the next. So if they experimented with some new system or assignment, they could immediately
see the results. Not only that, but students could track their improvement from one year to the next.
It allows parents and teachers to identify students who have a special gift in some area of study.
With the usual letter grading, especially in an era of widespread grade inflation, it's tough to identify which kids
are reall gifted in certain areas. For example, if a 1/3 of the glass has gotten straight A's in all math classes, how
do you know if it's a result of too easy of grading and/or having some truly smart future mathematicians? A standardized
test would allow a comparison with students at a national level, free from the biases and grade inflation of local
Standardized tests can be biased or unfair.
Standardized tests often open up the possibility of bias. SAT exams, for example, have been accused for years of
being culturally biased. An example is in English. If a question asks for the proper English "The man got himself
a dog" vs. "The man got hisself a dog", inner city youth may pick the latter, which may be how most of the people
around him speak. Sometimes terms, e.g., "suburb" and "Mardi Gras", may be familiar to a certain segment of the student
population but not others. Often, immigrants from Mexico or Native Americans may face words and sentences that are
completely foreign to them. These students may then do poorly on tests not because they don't know the material but
because they don't understand the questions. A students ability to advance to the next grade or get into a good
college shouldn't be affected by a potentially biased, unfair exam.
Students in failing school districts will be punished with less
funding, making the problem worse.
Not every student has the privilege of living in a district with a top-notch public school. Many inner city youth
are subjected to horrendously bad schools that provide pathetic environments for learning. Drugs, gangs, guns,
disruptive students, poor teachers, underfunded curricula, and other problems prevent these students from getting a
quality education. Even if the student is sincere, hard-working, and disciplined, he or she may be held back by the
poor learning environment. Is it really fair that students in these situations be held back from advancement simply
because they weren't lucky enough to be born in a richer or safer area?
It lessens the flexibility of teachers.
The best teachers are those that can connect with students and inspire them to want to learn. The best teachers use
a variety of techniques to make learning interesting and fun. Introducing standardized tests reduces the flexibility
of teachers, who may be forced to go into mindless bouts of lecture and quizzes. Each student and situation
is different. We should leave the teacher with as much leeway as possible in designing a curriculum.
- Learning material for tests means other material receives less emphasis. Each student and teacher has different priorities. The government is not necessarily the best organization to determine those priorities. Standardized tests mean schools must focus the curricula on what the government wants to the detriment of other areas of study that may be more important.
Written by: Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated: 10/02/2003