Standardized Testing: The Negative Impact on the Education System

11 Dec

Cartoon making fun of Standardized Testing

Colleges use a few indicators when determining the students they will accept and whether a student deserves to receive any scholarships. The primary used by colleges is the score that a student achieved on one of the standardized tests, such as the ACT or the SAT There is debate among scholars over whether an individual’s true intelligence can be determined by answering a few multiple choice questions and if standardized testing really has a positive impact on the education systems. One side of the debate argues that standardized testing has a positive effect because it shows how students rank amongst their fellow classmates based on these scores, and it shows how well the teachers prepared their students for the test. The other side argues that universities put too much emphasis on these tests that do not show a student’s true potential. The emphases that universities place on these biased standardized tests are leading to numerous negative effects on high school classrooms, and the way universities view future students.

These tests are designed to show a student’s ability to answer numerous multiple choice questions in a limited amount of time. The goal is to represent how knowledgeable a student is in curriculum classes such as science, English, math and reading. The administers of the educational system argue that these tests accurately display how well a student can perform on a test. It displays how much knowledge an individual has in these selected categories, and shows how well they will perform in classes that are related to these subjects.

The average student takes multiple tests a month in high school, so why should this ONE test determine whether that student receives scholarships to help pay for college? A student may devote all of his time in high school to do well in school, he could graduate top of his graduating class based on GPA, but not be able to do well on a standardized test. How can a student be measured on just a few multiple choice questions that he answered in a few minutes?  Peter Sacks, who studied at Oxford, Yale, and Harvard, and is currently a Harvard professor, wrote his book, ‘Standardized Minds’, over the problems caused by standardized testing.  One of his three main problems with standardized testing is its inability to show an individual’s true potential as a student (Sacks). It is hard to believe that someone’s capability as a student can be displayed on one multiple choice test.


With the ACT, one specific standardized test, it is likely for someone to be lucky and score well on the test since there is a 25% chance of getting each question right. Some people also require more time to complete a test. The time limit that is placed on these tests causes some students to panic, and rush, and unable to even think it through, which leads them to do worse on the test. These time-based tests make it unfair for those participants that actually like to ponder on a question before they answer it. The time requirement is absurd. If one person takes ten seconds to select the correct answer, another individual takes ten minutes to select the correct answer, is the person who
answered the question the quickest more correct?  People process information at different rates and in different ways. People who answer the questions quicker are not more intelligent, they just think faster.


Just because a person does well on one test does not mean they will be a dedicated or willing to do all the work needed to get the diploma they are seeking after. These tests do not always show a student’s true knowledge; as stated earlier, an individual could get lucky and guess right without having any knowledge on the subject. As with other tests that have essay or short answer questions on it, the individual has to display his intelligence by giving a response. Unlike multiple choice tests that show they are capable of making a circle around one of the answers, student generated responses because actually require the person to display what they actually know by formulating and writing a response.

In addition to not displaying a student’s true potential, standardized tests also causes teachers to change the way they teach, which prevents students from reaching their full potential. Teachers teach in order to prepare for the test, not in a way that will help students learn the most. In Olaf Jorgenson’s book, “The Death of Science,” he discusses the idea that standardized testing and the preparation for these tests are causing a decline in the science field. His reasoning for this belief is that teachers spend more time lecturing to prepare for these tests, which causes students to lose interest in science, so they are less likely to go after a job that is in the science field. The way to get students interested in science is by letting them experiment with labs, so they will see the interesting side of science, not just the boring lecture side (Jorgenson). Jorgenson was elected president of the Association of Science Materials Centers and a faculty member with the National Science Resources Center’s Leadership Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER). He is a very distinguished in the science field, and is capable of seeing the problems that standardized testing has on the science department.

Standardized testing causes the idea that the classes’ main goal is to prepare students for these tests. They teach mainly just what they think will help the students on the test, not what will help them in their future classes or professions. In multiple resources, such as the book, ‘Is Too Much Riding on High-stakes Tests?’ by Deborah Smith ( a New York times bestselling author, and now editor and director of the small publishing company, BelleBooks), they discuss how the amount of funds a school receives is based on how well these schools average as a whole on the standardized tests. So according to this book, she states that schools are known to hold back certain students that may not do as well as other students, just so that they can keep their averages up. This book also shows that there is a correlation between the numbers of students that are held back, and the number of students that drop out (Smith).

In some schools, the studies show that schools that used this method to raise their scores, led to multiple student dropouts. It is a schools job to make sure that students receive an education; but the schools that focus on scores of standardized tests are leading to more problems, such as increase in dropout rates.  These tests not only show a partial amount of a student’s potential, but they also effect a school as a whole, in a way that prohibits the school  from reaching its’ full potential.

Not only are these tests biased against people that require more time on the test, but it is also biased against specific groups of people. Take for instance; foreign students that are not as well equipped with the English vocabulary as someone that went through English classes their entire school career are still forced to take the same test, which consists of an English and Reading portion. It is completely illogical to believe that someone that has not been taught the English language their entire life would be able to correct English grammatical mistakes, read a whole passage (in English), and analyze these passages enough to answer the question as well as someone that has been surrounded by the English language since birth.

These tests are also biased against lower income families. There are classes offered to individuals where they can go and prepare for these tests. There are also study books that can be purchased that offer study tips and practice tests that help people prepare for these tests. Both the classes and the study books costs more than some of the lower income families can afford. Not everyone has the money to pay for the classes or test prep books, so it is an unfair advantage to the ones that can.

It also creates a bias on the amount of scholarship a person will receive. Why should a future music major’s scholarship be based on how well he did on the math or science portion of a test? How do these tests display how well a student could do in, let’s say, an art class? There is not an art portion on the test, so it does not display how much a student knows in his selected major. So why should someone’s intelligence be determined by a test that does not even represent what they want to study? These test display many biases against multiple groups, and it also develops biases against incoming college students on what scholarships they receive based on how well they did on these tests.

It is easy to find the flaws in an education system that relies primarily on one test to show the value of a person. One test is not able to represent a person’s true intelligence; nor is it possible for someone to show all they know by answering a few multiple choice questions. It also leads to many flaws in the way teachers go about instructing their students; they set up class to prepare students for these tests. They do not focus on what really matters; teaching students in a way that will cause them to aspire to learn and help them to do well in future classes. These tests also display multiple biases against certain groups. The way they are structured causes many complications and disadvantages for various groups. It is easy to say that these tests do not represent the value of a student; if anything they decrease the value of a student by making them feel less intelligent because they did not do as well on a biased test. In the words of Albert Einstein, one of the most profound scientists of all time, (even though he had extreme difficulty taking standardized tests), “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In summary, colleges should not group everyone together, and base a student’s worth based on one test, because a person’s true genius cannot by displayed be circling a few answers.

Works Cited Page

Sacks, Peter. Standardized Minds. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 1999. Print

Jorgenson, Olaf and Rick Vanosdall. “The Death of Science?” Phi Delta Kappan 83.8

(2002): 601. Academic Search premier. Text. April. 2002.

Smith, Deborah. “Is Too Much Riding on High-stakes Tests?” American Psychological      Association (APA).              Web. 03 Nov. 2011


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