Standardized Testing – What Does it Do to the Average Student?

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

Learning Environment-Margaret Mead

This quote by Margaret Mead is the foundation upon which my views as an educator were built; it is the lens (or bias) through which I will attempt to answer (as succinctly as possible) this deceivingly complex question.

Like an onion, the expression ‘average student’ consists of many layers of interpretation beyond the statistic of mean, median and mode especially when it comes to assessing the marvelous elasticity and growth potential of the human brain.

For example, who would be the average student and the below average student in these examples?

John wrote down the following in his notebook:

10+7=17, 9+6=15, 11+5=16, 8+11=19;

While Leanne wrote the following in her notebook:

10+7=5, 9+6=3, 11+5=4, 8+11=7

Leanne was also correct. How could that be?

I think most would say that John was at least average and Leanne was below average. John’s answers are the obvious traditional replies we would expect and, therefore, he would have been credited with a correct response.  Unfortunately for Leanne, the logical path she chose would probably have been dismissed outright. Yet, I would argue that she is—in all likelihood—a more actively engaged learner than John and what we should encourage in our system. Why? She used higher level thinking skills to construct a different mathematical system while he regurgitated ‘superficial’ skills. In other words, she set a new standard of opportunity: opportunity to examine how she had applied what she had learned in a new and unique way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the basics must be mastered and are an ingredient for success in our competitive world; but, like all recipes, success depends on all of the ingredients being proportioned correctly. Imagine ranking a cake in a baking contest by only tasting its baking powder?  Yet, I wonder if that isn’t what’s happening when a diploma is denied on account of failing an exit exam.

A student’s initiatives, creativity, imagination, curiosity, effort, judgment—just to mention a few—are invaluable assets that must not be ignored just because it cannot be measured on a standardized test; these assets can and are evaluated every day by our teachers. The following quote says it all:

Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered. It does not show up in a census. But nothing counts without it. –Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Our schools and teachers are well placed to develop and to deliver meaningful programs throughout a school day that not only recognize and engage the uniqueness of each student but allows for expression, awareness, and development of the multiple intelligences present in their classrooms. If we want all our students (irrespective of ability levels and socio-economic factors) to be lifelong learners in the 21st century, then the intelligences of intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, spatial, and kinesthetic must be treated with equal importance alongside verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical. To do otherwise not only cheats students from feeling successful and discovering their potential and the opportunities that await them, but may also deny the community the richness of their contribution.

The goal within our educational systems should always be about enhancing the quality of our students and the schools they learn in: not just about ranking them. The world we live in demands much more of our students than a shallow approach to learning that stresses storage of information in their heads. Higher scores (though laudable) on standardized tests should not be the gauge by which time and money are judged well spent; especially, if dropout rates continue to rise and our placement in the global community is deemed unsatisfactory.

Our choices must always profit our students. Stakeholders must collaboratively work together to find a way to encourage a willingness on the part of the student to trump factors that may impede their success and to find ways to empower our students to reach their educational goals.

Standardized testing has a place but, like the baking soda mentioned earlier in our cake, it is only one ingredient and, as such, must never (by itself) be accorded legitimacy when determining a valid measure of a good education.

An overemphasis on standardized testing impacts negatively on attitudes towards education and what learning is all about at a time when we want students and teachers engaged in a meaningful dialogue of discovery within their classrooms.

Living  in a global community demands a broader, more informed perspective and application of a mixture of new learning ‘tools’ well beyond the regurgitation of facts. Standardized tests emphasize an outmoded emphasis that only hurts our students’ learning if it is allowed a disproportionate part in their educational experience. Twenty-first century education must have an all-encompassing and broader view that emphasizes commitment to fairness, equity, accuracy and quality for all.

How was Leanne right? This is my humble view on this problem.

If she let 10+7=5 (it really doesn’t matter what it is equal to because she always applies the same logic) then

9+6 = (10-1) + (7-1) = 5-2 =3

11+5 = (10+1) + (7-2) =5-1 =4

8+11= (10-2) + (7+4) =5+2 =7

What’s your opinion about standardized testing?


5 thoughts on “Standardized Testing – What Does it Do to the Average Student?

  1. Excellent post – and relevant to the problems in education today. This is consistent with what the late Ted Sizer (Coalition of Essential Schools) said about standardized testing – they are generally worthless regarding the measurement of what students really “know.” I blog about the teaching and learning of “critical Skills” – these cannot be measured by multiple choice questions/answers. You can check out the blog at if you want – and with your permission, I’ll reblog one or more of your posts and refer my readers to you

    • Keeping our students engaged in learning that is relevant is the responsibility of all of the stakeholders in the community; relevancy and empowerment does not come from top down decision making. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and, yes, you have my permission to reblog.

      • Thanks – I reblogged the article. Good luck to you – you have permission to reblog any of the posts I’ve made in my blog. ~ CCJ

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