Standardized Testing and Education Quality

What is Standardized Testing

Standardized testing refers to any form of a consistent test that remains the same for all the test takers and is given under the same circumstances, and is graded in the same way for everyone. High-stakes, time-limit, or multiple-choice tests are not required for standardized testing. Simple or complicated questions can be asked. [1] 


Standardized tests assess academic skills in school-aged students, but they can also be used to evaluate almost any topic, including driving tests, personality, creativity, work ethics, and other qualities. Standardized testing is thought to be just and fair, with an objective method of assessing each test taker's results. [2]


Brief History of Standardized Testing


One of the earliest records of standardized testing can be traced back to China, where candidates applying for government jobs had to give a test evaluating their knowledge regarding Chinese philosopher Confucius and literature. Examiners in the Western world preferred essays-- a practice that dates back to the olden Greeks' love of the Socratic method. Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution moved school-aged children away from farms and factories and into classrooms, standardized testing became a convenient method to evaluate large groups of students fast. [3]


In 1905, a French psychologist Alfred Binet started working on a standardized intelligence test, which would later be incorporated into the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, a modern IQ test version. During World War I, standardized testing became a popular practice. This meant aptitude tests known as Army Mental Tests were used as a method to assign jobs to US servicemen during the war. 


Removing Standardized Testing from Academia 

When debating over the topic of standardized testing, especially in the education sector, various costs and benefits must be taken into account. Considering how subjective it is to assess one's ability based on standardized testing, there are institutions that argue in favour or against other alternatives. [4]


Pros of Standardized Testing in Academia

  • System of Measurement for Learning 

Through standardized testing, educators assess the quality of their curriculum and gain valuable measures for teaching students. Results from standardized tests are resourceful as they come from a neutral source and allow evaluators to get a general idea of all the students' overall understanding. 


  • Highlights Area of Improvement 

When a common mistake is done by several students, it reflects a lack of knowledge and shows which topic requires improvements and extra effort in teaching. 


  • Evaluates Progress 

Educators can assemble assessment data yearly. Trends can be discovered by comparing data over time, tracking any changes in the initial source. Standardized testing allows teachers to compare students' results within and across schools. It provides objective data on the abilities of individual students and the school as a whole. Strengths and limitations at the school level are more easily identified.


Cons of Standardized Testing in Academia

  • Results affect Test Taker's Confidence 

Since everyone is giving the same test, a student's bad result may reflect his/her poor knowledge of the subject. However, many students demonstrate a clear understanding of the subject but tend to struggle in a standardized test environment. This can affect students' confidence as they may link their success to a high test score. 


  • Teaching for the Test

One of the most prominent drawbacks of standardized testing is that educators tend to keep the exam layout as a base for their teaching style and may teach in a particular manner, focusing on certain topics they feel are relevant to the test. But does that actually guarantee any quality of education to a student who is merely being prepared for an examination?   


  • Results Don't Depict One's Capability

Many people mistakenly believe that data from standardized tests provide an impartial and credible estimation of a child's cognitive prowess. Cultural differences, unknown testing methods, apprehension, health problems, and performance issues can impact a student's ability to perform in a test. Therefore, students cannot be evaluated based on their on-time performance. There are several different elements involved regarding one's mental state while giving the standardized test.      


Qualitative vs Quantitative Knowledge Measurement

  • Quantitative 

Quantitative methods interpret data using numbers and are defined by emphasizing numbers, measurement, experimental design, and statistical analysis. The quantitative method can investigate many cases, and this type of design is deductive, often stemming from a preconceived hypothesis. This method of knowledge measurement helps educators question a student more comprehensively. [5] 


Quantitative assessment is a popular type of study that affects results-based assessment methodology. Structured interviews, questionnaires, and tests are just some of the data collection tools available in quantitative assessment. Quantitative knowledge measurement allows educators to evaluate students understanding of any subject through statistical/numeric representation of data. [6] For example, how many questions were attempted, how many answers turned out to be correct, how many topics were covered? 


Perks 

  • Easier analysis 
  • Measurable success 
  • Direct comparisons 

Costs

  • Inaccurate attention on numbers
  • May not provide adequate support to educators for further growth. 
  • Misleading because of higher numbers with understanding the subjectivity of the matter


  • Qualitative 

Qualitative data focuses on the subjective aspect of a student's knowledge. It reflects one's opinions, thoughts, motivation, attitude, and beliefs influencing a student's academic performance. With questions structured to collect qualitative data, students have the margin to explain their understanding of the matter in their own unique way, which can showcase their familiarity with the subject. However, qualitative knowledge measurement has a limited scope, as it is only applicable to specific situations and experiences, which may not intend for application on a wider target audience.


Perks

  • Allows academic encouragement 
  • An open-ended process
  • Adds in individual human experience 
  • Adds credibility to your information 


Costs

  • Difficult to adopt an inclusive outcome that applies to all students
  • Extensive data to assess one's knowledge
  • Time-consuming process


Alternatives to Standardized Testing 


Several educators consider that testing narrow down the curriculum while limiting student learning opportunities, emphasizing the basic skills. Not only this, some educators even consider that testing cannot measure higher-level thinking like creativity in students. According to them, educators help students learn more as compared to what their test scores reflect. 


Teachers must understand that they don't need to track every student's true potential through standardized testing. Some schools of thought argue that standardized tests should be a medium for evaluating the education system and not the individual student. Therefore, experts suggest several alternatives are a good way of assessing one's knowledge of the subject. 


  • Random Sampling 

Instead of testing the entire student populace annually, a fairly relevant group of students could be sampled. While this option does not completely eradicate traditional standardized testing, it does reduce its impact on students and teachers. [7] While students spend around 20 to 25 hours per year giving standardized tests, the state spends 1.7 billion on evaluations, according to an infographic from American University. These statistics can be reduced by sampling. [8]


  • Assess the Institute

While it is important to analyze a student's knowledge regarding a topic, it is also highly relevant to keep the school performance checked. Rather than putting pressure on the students, teachers can be held responsible for effective teaching in a way that all the students understand. 


To explain this further, Finland is a good example where there is an annual test that focuses on either math or language and literature. These tests, unlike standardized testing, are sample-based, and the results are used to evaluate the school. Instead of being tied to funding or a national ranking system, these scores are given to administrators to evaluate student learning. [9]


  • Stealth Assessments

Stealth assessments refer to the ECD-based (Evidence-Centred Design) tests. In such assessments, students produce rich knowledge and sequences of actions while performing various tasks using their skills and competencies that educators want to assess. Such assessments can eliminate the cost, time, as well as anxiety that accompanies traditional methods of standardized testing. [10] 


  • Game-Based Assessments


Video-game-like assessments designed by AAA lab at Stanford and GlassLab aim to assess higher-order thinking skills in students. With such game-based assessments, tutors can test the ability to take feedback and systems thinking. These are the measures that traditional assessments cannot do. However, such alternatives are in their infancy. [7]


Kritik- Your Ideal Learning Partner 

Instead of standardized tests that focus on just the quantitative results (ie. multiple-choice questions), Kritik enables professors to administer engaging and informative assessments through peer evaluations. Leveraging student-to-student assessments facilitate high-quality, thought-provoking written assignments as instructors are not burdened with the extreme workload associated with qualitative assessments. Furthermore, instructors are able to have better data on how the students are progressing throughout the term due to the constant feedback students are giving to one another. Through Kritik, students are able to display their knowledge better as multiple-choice-based standardized tests are replaced with quality and interactive assessments, ensuring that the students’ learning requirements are met while satisfying the educators’ teaching objectives. As such, the platform brings educators and students together and encourages flexibility in the learning process to ensure the utmost transfer of knowledge and efficient testing.    


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[1] Zucker, S. (2003). Fundamentals of standardized testing. Retrieved from Pearson Education. Retrieved from http://www. pearsonassessments. com/NR/rdonlyres 

[2] Standardized Test. (2015). The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved from https://www.edglossary.org/standardized-test/

[3] Nicholas, C. (2020). The History and Problems of Standardized Testing. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/the-history-and-problems-of-standardized-testing-71a018804b89

[4] Nixon, B. (2020). The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing. Whitby. Retrieved from https://www.whitbyschool.org/passionforlearning/the-pros-and-cons-of-standardized-testing 

[5] Fred, Y. Y. (2017). Measuring knowledge: A quantitative approach to knowledge theory. In Scientific Metrics: Towards Analytical and Quantitative Sciences (pp. 155-162). Springer, Singapore.

[6] Stanford University. Quantitative and Qualitative and Assessment Methods. Retrieved from https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1199 

[7] Kamenetz, A. (2015). What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/01/06/371659141/what-schools-could-use-instead-of-standardized-tests

[8] School of Education. (2018). Creative Alternatives to Standardized Test Taking. Retrieved from https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/creative-alternatives-to-standardized-test-taking 

[9] Dickinson, K. (2019). Standardized tests: Finland’s education system vs. the U.S. Big Think. Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/standardized-testing?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3 

[10] Shute, V., and Ventura, M. (2013). Stealth Assessment Measuring and Supporting Learning in Video Games. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from https://myweb.fsu.edu/vshute/pdf/Stealth_Assessment.pdf


Jay Arias
Education Researcher

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