The Impact of Standardized Testing on Education

How state-mandated tests affect education


Claire Underwood

Four End of Course STAAR tests are given to HHS freshmen every year.

Claire Underwood, Editor

For years, standardized tests have been used by the education system to measure the academic success of students. The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2001, set into motion state-mandated tests like TAKS, STAAR, and the Common Core learning program. However, even though the legislation began with good intentions, the impact on education has proved devastating. Standardized tests need to be reformed because they force educators to teach to the test rather than their students’ needs, discourage creativity among children, and do not increase student intelligence.

Because of educational guidelines (like TEKS) that are mandated by law, teachers are forced to follow a specific curriculum rather than molding their teaching around students’ needs. Important or even necessary subjects that need to be discussed are commonly overlooked because such questions will not be on the exam. Even though standardized tests were put in place to ensure a satisfactory education for all students, these tactics promote the very opposite. Teachers, in a rush to meet deadlines and ready their students for the test, commonly adopt a teaching style known as “item teaching”. According to the WETA, “Item teachers narrow their instruction, organizing their teaching around clones of the particular questions most likely to be found on the test — and thus teach only the bits of knowledge students are most likely to encounter on exams”. In other words, educators are focusing on exam material rather than providing conceptual learning experiences for their students. While this approach proves beneficial for a uniform testing environment, important aspects of the curriculum are being avoided. Students should be learning beyond the fifty questions of a standardized test.

Due to an over-reliance on mandated exams, children are not being educated the same as they were prior to 2001. This fact is leading to an enormous issue: America’s inevitable creativity crisis. Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist, recently remarked, “The real long-term predicament facing the United States and the world is the looming shortage of creative talent”. Over time, as standardized tests have increased, the value of student creativity has plummeted. While society should be encouraging students’ interest in ground-breaking fields like engineering, computer science, and the arts, it instead suffocates them with standardized tests. Mandated exams discourage the natural curiosity and imagination of school-aged kids.

Xavier Pinex of the University of South Dakota observed that “As students advance in their years of education, their learning techniques become less creative and more structured, turning from drawing and creative learning to lectures and specifically drilled information”. Students across the nation are being taught to take an “inside the box” approach to learning, and with the constant repetition that goes along with that, their natural curiosity is lost.

While students are learning facts, their minds are not receiving the proper exercises that promote creativity. Encouraging imagination is positive and necessary for the developmental growth of children, but the current educational system has yet to adopt this style of teaching. The United States is quickly entering a new age, one in which ideas and innovativeness will be necessary for its progress as a country. Teachers should feel that they can encourage inventiveness in their students and feed their pupils’ hunger for knowledge. After all, these generations represent the future; by limiting their learning because of standardized testing, the country’s own success is at risk.

While standardized testing does present an easy way to monitor student progress, it has actually not been proven to increase the intelligence of children. According to Allie Bidwell of U.S. News, “[Researchers] found overall that even though some schools successfully raised their students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System state test, that improvement was not associated with an increase in what’s known as the students’ fluid intelligence”. Fluid intelligence— the ability to think creatively, find patterns, and solve problems— is a necessary factor for student success. The Washington Post recently remarked that “The annual cost of standardized testing in the United States has been estimated at somewhere between $20 billion and $50 billion”, and Georgia alone spends 16.4 million dollars on mandated exams.

For such an expensive price, intellectual growth should be apparent to children and schools across the nation. Instead, many people are seeing no positive results at all. While students are being required to study for and take these standardized tests, they are losing valuable class time in which they could be learning. Kids are retaining information for a short period of time, but the necessary skills needed for adulthood, including critical thinking and creative problem-solving, are not being taught. Schools are meant to amplify intelligence and help students exceed in life; standardized testing is not teaching children these valuable and necessary traits.

While standardized testing was formed with good intentions, it forces educators to teach to the test, discourages inventiveness and creativity among students, and does not pose any benefits to the children. The current standardized testing program does not need to be completely removed, but revised in order to compensate for the uniqueness of each child. Without reform, students will be robbed of important learning experiences and the education that they deserve. Famous poet Oscar Wilde once said, “Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. If the education system follows this mindset when revising, mandated exams can become an equal balance of creativity and curriculum thus providing a better education for students. By improving standardized tests, America can ensure that coming generations will be better prepared for life and also ensure that the country’s future remains bright.