While the debate on standardized testing is ongoing, it is still a matter of opinion regarding whether standardized testing is good or bad for students. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to implementing standardized testing as a part of a course’s curriculum, but statistics support both viewpoints fairly equally. However, there is increasing research supporting the fact that standardized testing may be bad for students, particularly students with disabilities, who are not being exposed to the proper instruction needed to pass standardized testing.
What is Standardized Testing?
A standardized test is any form of test that "(1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from a common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a 'standard' or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students."
Examples of standardized tests include the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and Law School Administration Test (LSAT), to name a few.
Many students with disabilities can take a standardized test with accommodations, therefore increasing fairness but often not eliminating the possibility of an inaccurate result completely. Controversies begin to arise, however, when students with disabilities participate in high-stakes testing with accommodations or alternate assessments.
Good for students?
On one hand, standardized testing has a few significant, recognized pros. For one thing, standardized testing removes a subjective grading system and creates an impartial, objective grading system. There is also valuable data that can be collected as a result of standardized tests. It’s a quick way to see where the student stands in terms of their education and highlights the areas that the student is struggling in.
Standardized testing is also a good way of ensuring that students are properly learning the information that is being taught to them. If an entire class performs poorly on a standardized test, more likely than not, it’s a reflection on the professor’s method of instruction. A standardized test can be a good indicator that their method of instruction is not helping students effectively retain the material. This, in turn, may encourage professors to change the way that they teach so that students can learn more and thus perform better on exams.
Or bad for students?
On the other hand, standardized testing also has a couple of significant, recognized cons. For one thing, schools usually rely on funding based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. This creates an unnecessary amount of pressure for students, and for all the wrong reasons. Many school administrators are motivated by an increase in funding rather than an increase in learning and knowledge.
Additionally, standardized testing is usually high stakes for students, but it also completely relies on one day of examination. A student that is tired, stressed, sick, or anxious may reflect a poor score on a standardized test, but it isn’t an accurate reflection of a student’s intelligence.
Potentially bad for students with disabilities
Findings have shown that standardized testing may impact a student with a disability more than students without disabilities.
A lack of access to learning the material on tests is one disadvantage that students with disabilities face when it comes to standardized testing. Students with disabilities are often still shuffled into restrictive environments (though they shouldn't be − Least Restrictive Environments) in districts in which funding is not as readily available to properly accommodate, where they are separated from other students at school and do not receive full access to the mainstream curriculum, making standardized testing unfair.
Additionally, for some students with significant disabilities, standardized tests are cognitively inappropriate and do not accurately measure a student’s intelligence or their level of understanding.
Making an accommodation means altering one or more aspects of the testing process (whether it be altering the exam itself or the environment where the exam is to take place).
There are many types of accommodations available, including but not limited to:
- Presentation Accommodations: students have alternative modes of access (auditory, multi-sensory, tactile, and visual) and are not reliant on standard print alone.
- Large print
- Audiotape or CD
- Text-to-speech tools
- Responding in test booklet instead of answer sheet
- Spelling or grammar devices
- Reducing distractions to student
- Changing the setting to permit use of special equipment
- Seating the student in a room by themselves
- Extended time
- Multiple or frequent breaks during the exam
Alternatives to Standardized Testing
Learn more about alternatives to standardized testing such as portfolio-based assessments (where the teacher collects samples of work completed by a student in a systemic way to create a portfolio) and performance-based assessments (where students actively participate in a task to assess their process and problem-solving). Alternatives can be just as, if not exceedingly more so, effective than standardized testing.