Standardized tests: the phrase that causes anxiety and tension in a large portion of the population. Some call standardized tests a necessary evil, and there are both pros and cons regarding standardized tests and their effect on student performance.
Con: Students Don’t Learn for the Sake of Learning
When students know they will be judged based on their scores on a test, they quickly learn that it benefits them to only study and pay attention to what will be on the test. Rather than being intrinsically motivated to learn new things for the sake of learning, they become extrinsically motivated by the test. This type of learning is less meaningful and less effective.
Pro: Teachers Know Where Students Need Help
When teachers are given timely access to student results, they can more appropriately help their students learn. The data from standardized tests tells teachers exactly which student needs to focus on which skill. This extra attention and practice can help students improve in the areas they need it the most, leading to more success as they continue through school.
Con: It’s Stressful for Students and Teachers
It is well documented that standardized testing is extremely stressful for students, especially those who already suffer from test anxiety. Associating this stress and anxiety with school can cause students to develop negative associations with school and learning. Standardized tests also tend to stress out teachers, which can lead to a tense classroom environment.
Pro: It’s Motivating for Students
This isn’t true for all students, but some students are extremely motivated by data. When students see that there are areas they need to work on, they may buckle down and focus on those areas. When students have help interpreting their test data, they can learn how to improve and look forward to seeing better scores on the next test.
Con: It’s Demotivating for Students
While data can be motivating to some students, it can have the opposite effect on others. When students see that they are struggling in a lot of areas or that they are below the level of their friends and peers, it can make them want to give up. Especially if they’ve already been struggling and trying hard, this can make them question the point of even trying.
Pro: It Can Help Students Realize Their Strengths
We tend to do more of the things we’re good at, and seeing good scores on test results can motivate students to try even harder. It can also help push them in the direction of their future career. For example, if a student does well on the math portion of her standardized test, she may be more likely to pursue difficult math courses and eventually major in a math heavy field in college.
The standardized testing debate is not likely to end any time soon. Most people recognize that there should be some way to assess and measure students progress while also realizing that there are deep flaws in most standardized testing systems.1