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Monday, October 3, 2011

Persuasive Essay against Standardized Tests

One of the reasons why there are clamor against standardized testing is the reward and punishment system being implemented by the No Child Left behind Policy of the Bush Administration.  Under this policy, incentives and rewards will be given to those states and schools which will perform well or will achieve improvements in the standardized tests while punishment in terms of denial of support shall be imposed against those states and schools which will score poorly in these tests.

When standardized tests are made mandatory in schools, when incentives are given to those schools which score high in these tests, and when punishments are imposed against those schools which score low in these tests, schools have the tendency to change their curriculum and the teachers change their teaching styles to make the students better prepared for these tests.  (Marcus A. Winters 5) This is something that is undeniable considering that the prestige and survival of the school may have to be determined solely on how well their students fare in the standardized exams.  Teachers will be pressured by the school to ensure that the students consistently score high.    More time will be devoted on teaching students how to answer multiple choice exams in math, English and other subjects.  As a result, the number of hours the teacher devotes to meaningful learning is significantly reduced.  According to Eleanor Martin, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System which consumes 20 hours is an example of how students are robbed of the precious time for learning. (Eleanor Martin 243)  

Her observation is corroborated by the study conducted by the Carnegie-Knight Task Force.  According to their study, “The intensive time required to “teach to the test” -- to prepare students for mandatory testing in the nation’s public schools -- is stealing time away from students to discuss and study the news, and ultimately become educated about and engaged in their country and their world.” (“Mandatory Testing and News in the Schools” 2)  Based on their survey ¾ of the teachers say they are using news less often in the classroom as one of the medium of instruction. They say that one of the reasons is the mandatory standardized tests.

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Ray Bradbury, a person who was granted recognition for his distinguished and influential career as author of science fiction and fantasy made a remark about the kind of people our society have today.  He remarked that people know the facts and dates about Napoleon but they do not have slightest idea who he was and what his contributions were to the world.  Perhaps, educational institutions’ excessive preoccupation to score high in standardized tests is one of the culprits.  Standardized tests are essentially composed of multiple choice questions.  This was made primarily to make it easier for the persons conducting the exam to check the tests and determine the results in the shortest time possible.  Their obsession with quick results forces the critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills and problem solving skills to take a back seat in favor of memory work.  Thus, standardized tests are criticized because “they reward the ability to quickly answer superficial questions that do not require real thought. They do not measure the ability to think or create in any field..”  (“What’s wrong with Standardized Tests” 1)

One of the unintended consequences of the No Child Left behind Policy is that in the battle for survival among schools, the students are the ones placed in the middle of the battlefield emotionally scarred and depressed.  Common sense will tell us that not all students will pass the exam.  This is the reason for the testing to expose weaknesses among students.  One student will place number one while one student will place last.  Some will fail some will not.  When students fail in this one exam, the natural tendency is for them to lose further interest in studying.  The negative impact on the students is further magnified when the standardized exam will be a life-changing event for him such as when it is a prerequisite for receiving a diploma or not.  Teachers are also affected in the sense that their morale and motivation to teach their students may also be affected.   Research shows that when the competence of the teachers are measured in terms of their ability to make students rate high in the exam, they lose motivation in teaching students other values such as team work, love, respect, and loyalty.  They also lose patience in teaching students who score low in standardized tests. 

Standardized Testing is also known to be biased against some of the students taking it.  Perhaps, the most convincing evidence of bias is the result of the standardized exam itself.  In 2007, California released the results of its annual standardized tests.  The results revealed that “

White and Asian students had higher scores than black and Hispanic students, with more than 90 percent of white students and more than 60 percent of Asian students passing the English-Language Arts at the Berkeley schools.  Black and Hispanic students had much lower average scores, with 48 percent of black students and 38 percent of Hispanic students scoring below and far below basic.”  (Amanda Ott 2) A possible explanation for this is the inherent disadvantage in the manner the questions are framed.  According to academicians, some of the questions in standardized exams refer to questions that are specific to American culture and history.  These kinds of questions are not easy for an Asian or Hispanic.  There are also questions that are framed in such a way that they make it difficult for persons who are not native English speakers compared to students in which English is their primary language.  There are also those who suggest that socioeconomic status also plays an important role in standardized exams making it an unequal battlefield for some students.  Research shows that those in the inner-city traditionally score low in standardized tests.  The possible effect of this is that schools might stop their programs that are designed to integrate inner-city students into suburban schools.  (Eleanor Martin 243)  

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