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Monday, October 3, 2011

What is the Origin of Standardized Tests

“Of all the chasms that separate one world from another, none is greater than the gap between the people who make policy and the people who suffer the consequences.”  This is an excerpt from the foreword to the book entitled “What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?” written by Susan Ohanian (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).  It emphasizes the role lawmakers and policymakers play and the impact of every policy or law they make on the lives of the people. Though these new policies or laws may appear to be beneficial to the public, they may in fact be harmful and destructive to the very people these laws and policies want to protect – the young students and the entire educational institution.  One of these contemporary policies is the policy of standardization of tests.  The proponents of standardized tests argue that this policy will raise the standard of education which has significantly degenerated and instill accountability to educational institutions to take affirmative actions in improving the quality of education. (Gregory Cizek 251)  The opponents of standardized tests however argue that these tests do not promote learning, are psychologically harmful to the students, not accurate basis of a person’s development and that they fail to assess the other relevant and important skills that students learn while in school.     

Origin of Standardized Tests
The system of standardized exams is believed to have originated in China. (Jay Matthews 2)  During those times, applicants for government positions were required to take standardized exams to determine the applicants’ competency in Chinese history, literature and philosophy.  These exams are believed to be very stringent such that only one out of the total number of hundreds of applicants is chosen for appointment to government position.

In the United States, the system of standardized tests started in 1845.  Horace Mann called for standardized essay testing among students.  During the start of the 19th Century, the Ivy League, which is a consortium of prestigious East Coast Colleges and universities, formed the College Entrance Examination Board which sought to address the concerns of students who take entrance examinations for college or university.  The Ivy League came up with the idea of a single set of entrance exams for admission to different schools.  In 1926, in view of the difficulty of standardized essay exams, the Scholastic Aptitude Test was developed which is a multiple choice entrance exam. 

Gradually, the idea behind the administration of standardized exams expanded.  Presently, standardized tests are being administered to objectively measure the academic aptitude of students from varying social backgrounds and with different educational experience. (“Standardized Tests” 3)   Also, because of the demand to set higher standards of education, elementary schools and high schools are now required to conduct standardized tests to assess scholastic achievement, to determine student placement, and to teach specific test-taking skills.  These tests are now called high-stakes test because students must pass these tests before they advance to the next grade or receive a diploma. 

It is admitted that the United States educational system needs to be reformed.  Indeed, improvement must be made not only in the undergraduate level but even in the elementary and high school level.  Standardized testing is also not inherently flawed.  They are, in fact, effective tools in identifying the weak and strong areas among students.  They can also be used to determine whether the students have learned anything after the end of the school year.  Standardized testing becomes evil once they are made the sole basis for making important decisions such as whether to grant a student his or her diploma or whether to allow the students to advance to the next grade level.  The clamor against standardized tests from a growing number of individuals, groups and even academicians should not be taken for granted

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