The Failure of Standardized Tests to Measure Schools

Posted: August 30, 2007 in Education

My experience with tests and testing comes, first, from my journey through an educational system of the post WWII years.  Second, I am a former Navy man who graduated from Navy instructor school and had the opportunity to administer tests and teach the process of developing curricula and tests to other instructors in a program called "Personnel and Training Evaluation Program” – or PTEP. I have raised four children and had an unhappy experience with a multiple choice test administered to my no. 2 son. I also taught in a vocational education environment and used my skills to develop and teach a course in computer maintenance.


Let’s start with my personal experience taking tests. One of my teachers confided with my grandmother that I did better on the i. q. test than anyone else in my high school. I graduated 26th out of 33 in another, smaller high school. So, my grades definitely were lower than my i. q. would seem to warrant. I quit college after 2 ½ years for two reasons, really: one, I ran out of money; and two, my grade point average was below a “C” level. I also tested high in tests in the Navy but my final contribution to society is yet to be realized. I knew an officer on the first ship I served on who distinguished between capacity and ability. There is also another quality measured by the emotional quotient, or E. Q.


Then, there’s my Navy experience. As an administrator and instructor in the PTEP I knew how a well constructed multiple choice test item can be valid for evaluating a testee’s knowledge of a subject. A multiple choice test item has a couple of advantages, of course. It enables the administrators to grade tests quickly and efficiently; leaving time for other tasks devoted to improving instruction. Its objectivity is another. Grading an essay test falls prey to the expertise and care of the person grading the test. An element of subjectivity is always present in grading. However, if a validity index isn’t used the test item’s validity remains unknown. It’s a simple but effective measurement; but I haven’t seen it used since I left the Navy.


As a parent I found out how wrong it was to rely on standardized test results in deciding on what schedule my son was to have when he went from 8th grade to freshman year in high school. I noticed that my son’s math teacher ignored his good results in a standardized math test and recommended him for basic math for the next year. When I called her and asked her about the apparent inconsistency between his standardized test score and her recommendation she immediately capitulated and put him into algebra; which he proceeded to flunk and become discouraged with high school in general. I believe it contributed a lot in his decision to drop out before graduation. His successes since high school are a testament to his abilities; but not his capacity to learn. It was a good example of the failure of the standardized test to accurately measure that capacity.


Finally, I would agree with educators that standardized tests are more a harm than a help in achieving the ultimate goal of educating young minds.  


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