The Effects of Standardized Tests on Teachers and Students

by Tim Zimmer

Standardized testing is a hot-button issue among teachers, parents, and students alike. While proponents argue that standardized tests hold teachers and school districts accountable, many argue that they also place undue stress on teachers and students and encourage teachers to "teach the test." Before we walk through the facts, let's first discuss the meaning and purpose of standardized testing.

The Purpose of Standardized Testing

According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), a standardized test is "any examination that's administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner." The test either measures for aptitude (how well you are likely to perform in a given setting) or achievement (how well you know a learned subject). As a result, standardized testing allows educators to make valid inferences about the knowledge and skills a student possesses or has the ability to posses.

Impact on Students

The average students takes approximately 112 standardized tests by the time they graduate high school. In the 2014-15 school year, eighth graders alone spent an average of 25.3 hours testing on 10 different mandated standardized tests. Critics of standardized tests argue that the test places unneeded stress on students to perform well (especially when tests are delivered in excess). For instance, according to Columbia University's Office of Work/Life, stress from standardized tests can lead to poorer health and negative feelings toward school and learning. This sentiment is echoed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), who found that students begin to question their abilities and self-esteem when they see others as controlling the administration and consequences of the tests they are mandated to take.

On the other hand, proponents of standardized tests argue that the negative impact is minimal when compared to the outcome. While research on the positive outcomes of standardized testing on students is limited, mandated testing provides students an objective measure of their knowledge of a given subject. In addition, standardized tests indirectly impact students by letting teachers know what type of instruction they need or what type of knowledge they are lacking.

Impact on Teachers

The effects of standardized testing go far beyond the student. For instance, a survey of 1,500 National Education Association (NEA) teacher members found that nearly three out of four (72 percent) teachers felt moderate to extreme pressure from their school and administrators to improve their standardized test scores. What's more, slightly more than four out of ten (42 percent) teachers believed that the emphasis placed on improving test scores negatively impacted their classroom (versus 15 percent who believed they had a positive impact). Altogether, 45 percent of the NEA members surveyed had considered leaving the profession due to the adverse effects of standardized testing. The effects of tying student performance in standardized testing to salaries and job stability has led many teachers to experience a lack of control over their work lives. Since this lack of stability and control is a major stress factor among teachers, the NEA notes that it's not surprising that many experience high stress levels.

Advocates of standardized testing argue that since standardized tests hold districts, schools, and teachers accountable, only those who fail to perform will sit in the hot seat. In addition, since standardized tests are objective in nature, they are a useful tool to gauge performance. Teachers, on the other hand, are subjective in nature and can unfairly assign grades.

Overall Impact

Standardized tests can place significant physical and emotional stress on students and teachers. While standardized tests do indeed hold teachers and school districts accountable, linking student performance on the tests to teacher salary and job stability can have drastic effects on the health and well-being of teachers and their students.

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