Standardized tests aren't best way to measure student success

It’s a system students in the United States have been relentlessly conditioned and prepped for: sharpen your pencils, bubble in your answers fully, work within the time limit, skip the question if you don’t know the answer to it, etc. The standardized testing system is the most common method for evaluating teachers, determining the funding each school earns, and accrediting schools. While the Virginia Standards of Learning exam hinders and limits the quality of resources, tools, and methods of teaching for local educators, the problem is not the existence of the standards or test itself, but rather the test’s format. Multiple choice tests teach students to become better test takers rather than evaluate their learning; essentially turning tests into games of chance.

Some of this information may come as no surprise to you; you may be nodding your head, fully understanding the struggle of both students and educators as SOL testing begins.

It has come to the point where educators cannot have their lesson plans approved unless it is derived directly from a very specific standard. An example lesson plan would be stem from the following lesson plan: Learning objective: 3.7.d) The student will investigate and understand the major components of soil, its origin, and its importance to plants and animals including humans. Key concepts include: soil is a natural resource and should be conserved” (Virginia Department of Education, 2016). Upon looking at this SOL, most people would assume a multiple-choice test would be the best way to evaluate whether this lesson was learned, but as time progresses and technology advances, more resources for students and teachers are available, yet the standardized test stays the same.

University of California, Los Angeles offers an alternative to the unfulfilling standardized test. The CRESST program aims to make standardized tests more innovative and balanced while staying in line with the common core standards of learning, a relative to the SOL. This test gets rid of the guesswork by testing a prior measurement of knowledge on the subject before the test, but also by providing the scoring rubric for the student. This test is rewritten when the primary source materials — the textbook — change.

But what makes the test especially powerful revolves around its format of having students write down and explain their answers.

Multiple-choice tests have a robotic way of grading that does not account for the human behind the results.

Multiple-choice tests also take a toll on teachers and other educators as they focus on test preparation rather than the material of the curriculum. Educators are forced to teach proper test taking skills and methods to the student with examples like Who Wants to be a Millionaire’s 50/50 lifeline. Even popular textbook companies, such as McGraw-Hill, go through the trouble of printing test strategies to help students “beat the test,” sharing tips such as: use the process of elimination, use “context clues” to make an intelligent guess, rule out questions with superlatives, and when in doubt, guess.

None of these tips or methods encourage students to think for themselves.

By chance, should the student answer a question correctly, they cannot always consistently provide an appropriate explanation for choosing the correct answer.

Another troubling factor with the current standardized test format revolves around the reliance on computers to grade these bubbled-in scantrons. Rather than rely on machines and computers to evaluate these tests, the standardized test should be transformed into open-ended short answer or essay questions.

This method would allow live human beings to more effectively evaluate student learning rather than cut corners on something that so strongly affects our children’s education. These answers take longer to grade, but they allow students to explain how they arrived to their conclusions.

The time and money put into teaching methods such as the process of elimination, using “context clues” or having the student guess may get better test results, but they do not demonstrate knowledge. Open-ended questions in the form of an essay or short answer allows students to explain how they got their answer; avoiding the issue of gameshow-like guesswork.

Pacheco is a student at the College of William and Mary studying ​English and Elementary Education.

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