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What Kinds of Things Cause Kids to Do Poorly on Standardized Tests?

by Kori Morgan, studioD

Using standardized tests to evaluate student, teacher and school district performance is a controversial issue. While some argue that the tests provide convenient, scientific feedback, others believe they put detrimental academic pressure on students, particularly children. Self-concepts, stress and classroom environment are just a few factors that cause young students to perform poorly on standardized tests.

Poor Testing Skills

While some students can quickly decipher a test's design with little effort, many exhibit a large performance gap between their classroom grades and their test results. According to Lloyd Bond of the U.S. Department of Education, these students usually lack "test sophistication," the ability to adapt their learning and thinking styles to the test's limitations. For example, they may struggle with pacing themselves to complete all the questions in the allotted time limit, or be unable to make educated guesses on multiple choice questions.

Teacher Pressures

New policies that use standardized tests to evaluate teachers can create pressures for students, too, as many states are considering making test results as much as half of a teacher's overall job evaluation. Testing can also determine whether a student gets promoted to the next grade and can affect their future placement in classes and schools. Psychologically, these pressures weigh heavily on students. In a "Scholastic Teachers" article about test pressures, one student even reported feeling sick to his stomach when his teacher told him to take out a pencil.

Poor Social Environment

A negative social environment can also affect how well a student performs on tests. While bullying has long been known to decrease students' self-esteem, attendance and feelings of security, the American Psychology Association reported in 2011 that these factors can also impact standardized testing scores. While the study originally dealt with ninth-graders, the same lack of attentiveness due to bullying can affect elementary school students as well, causing them to not focus or feel insecure about test performance.

Home Environment and Background

School circumstances and pressures aren't the only factors in lower test scores. According to an executive summary by the Illinois education association Growth Through Learning, factors like family income, parent-child relationships and lack of educational advantages also play a role. Students whose parents support their learning emotionally and monetarily, such as by helping them with homework and providing educational experiences like museum trips and summer programs, have an advantage over children who lack these resources and relationships.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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