Standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT are a necessity for most American students who are applying to college. These tests are often called “high stakes” tests and are a source of stress and anxiety for many teens. Whether or not this method of student evaluation is accurate, fair, or helpful is a continuing controversy.
After the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002, encouraging the use of more high-stakes testing throughout the school-age years, the US dropped from 18th place in the world for math according to the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) to 31st place in 2009. The same thing happened in science and there was no noticeable change in the reading ability section. According to the Brookings Institution, for the students whose test scores rose, 50-80% of them were only temporary increases and none showed long term learning improvement.
On the other hand, without standardized tests we would have to rely on individual schools and teachers to assess their own students’ development, which is inherently unreliable as teachers wish their students to to excel and succeed. Standardized tests are mostly multiple-choice and graded by a machine, which removes any possibility of bias in scoring, but comes at a high cost in rigidity and “one-size-fits-all.” The multiple choice method also removes any chance of students expressing their creativity, motivation, personal achievements enthusiasm, or integrity.
While “teaching to the test” can be a good thing as it eliminates time-wasting activities and narrows in on a more specific field, making it easier for kids to focus on one thing, it also promotes methods of teaching that are far from ideal. “Drill and kill” is one term used by educators to describe this, meaning teachers feel more pressure to narrow their curriculum to only focus on the certain subjects (mostly math) while science, social studies, and the arts are far less prioritized. Within this framework comes more focus on memorization (“drill”) and little room for students’ curiosity (“kill”).
As we can see, there are pros and cons to standardized testing. Either way one thing is for sure: taking these tests is (in most cases) a required part of a high schooler’s life. What we really need to take into consideration is if all the pros are worth all the cons.