Standardized tests are a subject that few people agree on—from kids to parents to education experts. The situation in our school district is up in the area as the tests catch up with the new Common Core curriculum.

A little background: The No Child Left Behind Act introduced under George W. Bush’s ramped up testing requirements for all students. The tests were intended to help rate schools, spot mediocre teachers, and identify low performing schools. Many people questioned the impact and efficacy of using standardized test to evaluate schools and teachers. The Obama Administration introduced the Every Student Succeeds Act to ease some of the pressure; meanwhile new Common Core curriculum standards were introduced in 2010.

I wanted to know what current research shows about the value of standardized tests, but when I did some research I found out many experts sharply contradict one another.

Support for Testing

Standardized test supporters will say that testing itself has no negative effect on students, and point out that tests helps identify gaps in curriculum and high-risk students. These advocates say that universal assessments allow for comparison of all students in the country, and an in-depth evaluation of how schools are serving their students.

Opposition to Testing

Those who oppose standardized testing argue that it is punitive, particularly high stakes testing that can lead to school and/or teacher sanctions. They argue that testing puts pressure on schools to “teach to the test” to avoid sanctions.  Teaching to the test means that teachers focus on rote drills instead of implementing more creative teaching methods. These critics believe that deep, active learning cannot be measured by a test, so it won’t be prioritized in a classroom designed for better scores.

Many test opponents also say that standardized tests cause too much tension for students. Many parents with anxious kids choose to opt out of participating.

Where We Go From Here

For the moment, standardized tests seem to be here to stay, although many people are proposing alternatives. New ideas suggest using portfolio-type projects to give an overall picture of a students’ growth, track students individual answers, or take anecdotal evidence. I hope that we can move beyond the political overtones and begin a conversation about how to best serve our children.

I’ve taken standardized tests as a student, administered them as a teacher, and seen my kids take them as a parent. I fall somewhere in the middle on the subject of testing. Meanwhile, I’ve developed my own standardized testing survival strategy. I always tell my children to do the best they can, but not to stress. I remind them that this won’t affect their grades and we won’t even know how they did until well into the summer.  I make sure they get a good night’s sleep and eat a hearty breakfast on testing day. My goal is to help cut the tension, but encourage high scores.