Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing-The Impact on Our Children

How Standardized, High-Stakes Testing Affects Teaching

Standardized testing and high-stakes testing are apparently here to stay. Ever since the passage of No Child Left Behind, students and teachers are being held to strict performance outcomes that aim to produce the same results in every school district of the country.  The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing-The Impact on Our Children begs for more meaningful conversation.

The Obama administration’s reforms to No Child Left Behind promised an end to excessive testing but did not deliver it.

In the decades since education reform became a rallying cry for every administration since the 1980s, teachers and schools have had time to judge the effects of all this testing.

Most teachers agree that the negative effects outweigh the positive ones.

Negative Effects of Standardized Tests

If you took a survey of teachers, most of them would come up with this list as the main drawbacks of teaching to the test.

They Eat Up Huge Chunks of Classroom Time

Most teachers have found that preparing for the tests takes a big bite out of their lesson plans. The tests themselves require long hours of school time. Many of them take all day to take. Students who are sitting and taking tests for two days or more are missing valuable classroom time.

They Stifle Creativity

This is a concern that many teachers raise. They say that having to teach to a single, standardized test means having to abandon their own creative lesson plans. The focus on learning only the test material means that teachers can’t foster creativity in their students or spend time working out problems. They work like automatons or computers whose only job is to deliver information.

The focus on testing also means that schools no longer emphasize programs like music, art and physical education. These subjects are not on any of the tests, and many schools don’t have the time or resources to teach them.

They Narrow the Curriculum

One outcome of the focus on high-stakes testing is a narrow curriculum. As schools drop classes that aren’t on the test, their curricula has become extremely narrow. Students no longer have the opportunity to explore different areas of interest. Often, these dropped classes are the very ones that add joy and interest to a student’s day.

Writing in the NEA Today, Tim Walker pointed out that, “Across the nation, the testing obsession has nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies and science, not to mention world languages, financial literacy and that old standby, penmanship.

Our schools, once vigorous and dynamic centers for learning, have been reduced to mere test prep factories, where teachers and students act out a script written by someone who has never visited their classroom and where ‘achievement’ means nothing more than scoring well on a bubble test.”

They Lead to Cheating and Dishonesty

Standardized tests place huge pressure on teachers and students. High-stakes testing can determine whether a student graduates, goes to college, gets accepted into a trade school or moves up to the next grade. It can even determine whether the student gets a driver’s license in some states.

The pressure is equally intense on teachers. Test outcomes can determine their pay rate, promotions and job security.

It’s not surprising that this would lead to widespread cheating. A 2017 survey found that 64% of high school students admitted that they had cheated on at least one test. Recent scandals in Atlanta and Philadelphia public schools highlight a problem that is unlikely to go away.

They Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Students

Students in low-income schools are at huge disadvantage when taking these tests. According to FairTest, a group that advocates the elimination of standardized testing, disproportionate numbers of African American, Latino and Native American students fail these tests.

Many of these students end up dropping out of high school. The organization also says that an obsession with the school’s test scores can lead to schools dismissing or otherwise mistreating students who they think will bring the average score down.

They Primarily Benefit Testing Companies

Testing is a billion-dollar industry. For-profit companies that write, sell and score the tests are the biggest beneficiaries of the testing system. Three companies write 96% of the tests used in schools all over the country.

They are Harcourt Educational Measurement, McGraw-Hill and Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company). Pearson Education does most of the test scoring.

These companies make additional millions selling training packages, textbooks and test-taking supplies to school systems. They also make money providing tutoring to students who need extra help preparing for the tests. Connections Academy, a leading provider of this tutoring, is owned by Pearson Education.

One Teacher’s Experience

One teacher wrote eloquently about how these negative effects accumulate to make teaching a burdensome job.

Writing on the ThoughtCo blog, teacher Derrick Meador says that he has shifted back and forth on whether he should “teach to the test” or conduct his classroom in the way he thinks is best. He finally decided that not teaching the test material would be a disservice to his students.

“Since I made that philosophical shift,” Meador writes, “My students perform significantly better when compared to my students before I shifted my focus to teaching towards the test. In fact, over the last several years, I have had a near perfect proficiency rate for all my students. While I am proud of this fact, it is also extremely disheartening because it has come at a cost.

“This has created a continuous internal battle. I no longer feel like my classes are fun and creative. I do not feel as if I can take the time to explore the teachable moments that I would have jumped on a few years ago.

Time is at a premium, and nearly everything I do is with the one singular goal of preparing my students for testing. The focus of my instruction has been narrowed to the point that I feel as if I am trapped.”

Are There Any Positives to Standardized Testing?

There are a lot of problems with these tests. Do they have any benefits?

They Allow Teachers to Determine a Student’s Weaknesses

Some education reformers say that the tests can help pinpoint a student’s weaknesses. If a student consistently fails one portion of the test, the teacher can intervene with a focus on that subject.

They Teach Students How to Take Tests

Standardized tests are a major part of our life. Once they graduate from high school or college, students are facing a world where these tests are the norm. They’ll have to take these tests to get a driver’s license, to apply for certain jobs and to acquire professional licenses. Learning how to study for a test and take it is a useful life skill.

They Provide Accountability

Test scores provide an objective way for parents and administrators to evaluate a school’s performance. Schools must make their test results available to the public. Parents who want to learn about a certain school can use these results as a guide.

The Future of Standardized Tests

The focus on testing is one of the reasons that teachers are leaving the field. The stress, pressure and lack of creativity that the tests impose are driving many good teachers away.

FairTest and United OptOut are two leading organizations that push for changing or eliminating high-stakes tests. Testing has had a grip on our schools for decades. It may take some time to get rid of it.

Has High Stakes Testing Taken It’s Toll on You?

If you’re a teacher, and you’re asking yourself if the testing monster has just become too much, take a look at my #1 recommendation for escaping the classroom. It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns and is the place where I have learned everything you see on this website.

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6 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing-The Impact on Our Children”

  1. My ex was a headteacher in primary education in the UK. An education system riddled with very similar, if not exactly the same testing/streaming, pressure culture as you obviously suffer over there. In the UK education reform has also been promised for several years as the negative effects of the pressures that our education system wages on our youngest has long been recognised. What happened over here, rather than the stalemate witnessed across the pond, was that reforms were started at one point in a top-down approach and then stopped. Consequently what we have ended up with is a system where our higher education is now mainly course work based and the vast majority of those kind of learning pressures have been removed from our young adults who could possibly benefit from learning how to work towards a tight deadline and deal with a heightened pressure system, whilst our younger more tender roots are whipped up into serial frenzies and put under the immense pressures of constant testing.

    I think the official name for the system is ‘Arse about Face’

    • Thank you for adding to this conversation!  I enjoyed the briefing on what is happening in your part of the world, and the “official” name!  If you could listen in to a conversation in a teacher’s workroom here in the states, you’d hear much less refined titles bandied about. 

      Serial frenzies is an excellent term for what I’ve witnessed through my years of testing.  You see all sorts of student behaviors as they wait to begin the test.  From constant pacing, to loosing their breakfast in the classroom trash can, the stress reveals itself.  In an effort to get test scores that help move someone’s career up the ladder, we’re doing wicked things to our children.  

      I don’t know about the UK tests, but parents and teachers here are kept in the dark when it comes to test questions.  While I understand a company’s need to protect their materials, they have no way to assess the folks who claim to be assessing the students.

      Maybe the current generation of test-takers will be able to craft a kinder plan.  

  2. Standardized testing is sad. I read the pros of testing. The unfortunate part is what the government says are advantages is what they are taking away from the classroom by requiring the teachers only to teach testing standards. A teacher can not focus on a student weakness if they can not customize their teaching plan. 

    Also, when big government gets involved, it always includes money and what can they gain from it. All at the expense of our children and their education. 

    Thank you for informing all of us about the testing. I no longer have children in the school system and did not know a lot of this information. 

    • With so many people with their fingers in the education pie, it’s very often a sad and irrational creature.  The current cost of testing nation-wide is $1.7 billion.  You can read the article here.  

      One point that I took away was that $1.7 billion is such a small part of the whole education budget, that it’s considered a drop in the bucket.  No one seems to be considering the emotional costs paid by students and the major disruptions to learning.

      Thank you for taking time to join the conversation.  I appreciate it.

  3. I feel like a big part behind students cheating on standardized tests is not knowing what it’s for. Taking the test as a purpose instead of a means of evaluation. Pupils focus so much on cramming the night before and pulling out every trick they have to pass the test that they forget what school is actually supposed to do, to prepare you for your further life in society. That’s it.  Most kids don’t make use of the opportunity and are too focused on just passing. This same concept especially applies to low-income students who give up due to not seeing the point of it. 

    • A percentage of students don’t see any value in the education being offered to them.  They have little input into the classes they take, or the books they are required to read, so they devalue and discount the whole process.  

      Others become so consumed with achieving a high score, that they will do almost anything to make it happen.  When the system places so much emphasis on one event–the test–it’s not surprising that students only focus on the score and not the knowledge they’ve gained from the coursework.  Like everything else, this will work itself out.  It will be interesting to watch it unfold.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.  I appreciate it!


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