The standardized test: a source of information, motivation, anxiety, distress, and unneeded headache. At its best, the standardized test allows educators to identify students with potential learning disabilities and at-risk academic behaviors. At its worst, the standardized test creates an environment of panic among students and confusion among parents.

So what’s the big deal, anyways?

Most of the trouble surrounding the use of standardized testing involves its use as a perfect standard. While there is certainly a time and a place for intense standardized assessment, educators must not put all their eggs in one test’s basket.

What factors can lead to a test’s misinterpretation or misuse? I’m glad you asked!


Teaching to the Test:

As a Millennial passing through the American educational system, I was never equipped with the practical skills needed to survive my twenties, thirties, or beyond. Balancing a checkbook, learning to do taxes, and opening or managing a credit card were considered irrelevant skills because they were not included on standardized tests. Our teachers’ job security and pay depended on our ability to pass such assessments, so factoring polynomials and memorizing formulas was prioritized above practical information.

Consequently, I still rely on TurboTax.


Problem of Language:

As one would expect, American standardized tests are written in English from beginning to end. For recent immigrants or children who fail to fully comprehend the language, this becomes an immediate problem (Kubiszyn & Borich, 2016). When these students do poorly on such assessments, they are immediately placed on the radar for special education and given the stigma of “at-risk for failure. Students with perfectly intact problem-solving skills and critical analysis abilities are thus led to believe that they are underachievers will little academic hope. In reality, it is nothing that a few English as a Second Language classes can’t remedy.


Underachieving Schools:

One further element that standardized tests fail to account for is the underachieving school. Students in poverty-stricken, inner-city schools often receive poor educational instruction, less one-on-one aid, and less access to resources than their well-to-do counterparts. Not surprisingly, their scores on standardized tests are often lower (Kubiszyn & Borich, 2016). This has little to do with their ability to comprehend, analyze, and interpret information; rather, they have not received the type of education that they require to learn effectively. Upon receiving low scores, these students believe that they are underachievers with little hope and become disenchanted with school in general. Many are even considered for special education and receive a label that they might never rid themselves of.

Talk about a double whammy.

The truth is that standardized tests are highly effective tools for measuring comprehension and achievement in the classroom, but they must be taken with a grain of salt. Highly capable students might still find themselves at the low end of the spectrum due to extraneous factors that must be weighed by parents and teachers alike. There is no need to rush to conclusions about such students’ abilities without investigating their learning environment, home environment, language skills, attitudes toward school, and various other circumstances. In fact, these factors might be more telling than the test scores themselves.

Kubiszyn, T., & Borich, G. D. (2016). Educational Testing & Measurement (11th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.