Standardized testing depreciates education
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 23:04
According to a recent New York Times article, standardized testing may be coming to colleges and universities in an effort to publicly rank colleges and provide an alternative to the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking. The government officials discussing the possibility are modeling the initiative after No Child Left Behind, the standardized test implemented under former President George W. Bush to reform elementary and secondary education, which should then carry over into the college level. This misguided focus on standardized testing—a poor tool to judge education—not only fails to understand the purpose behind a college education, but also misrepresents the quality of education in universities based on irrelevant criteria.
The purported reasoning behind administering standardized exams to college students is to test skills like critical thinking to show taxpayers and prospective students the educational and intellectual growth possible at the university. However, while critical thinking is one of the skills students should be honing during their college education, it is not easily measured.
The real world of work and life are more likely to accurately test someone’s problem solving abilities, rather than a standardized test. Being able to reason, write and work cooperatively with others are all skills that should be improved during higher education. The fact of the matter is that standardized testing does not necessary equate to applications of knowledge in the academic world. While my ability to reason and analyze the symbolism of a poem may later help me think critically about data I have to compile for a job down the line, it isn’t necessarily going to be easily measured in my ability to pick out how, exactly, a certain word is used in a story.
If NCLB has taught us anything, it’s that standardized testing is not always the answer. According to the 2007 article in Time magazine, “How to Fix No Child Left Behind,” NCLB mainly highlighted poorly functioning elementary and secondary schools and demanded they do better, which in turn forced the schools to demand higher test scores without focusing on the quality of education in general. Do we really want to do the same to our colleges and universities? Encouraging colleges to shift the focus and resources on test scores that will make schools look better will only be at the expense of the real learning.
While U.S. News and World Report’s rankings have their own problems in how they determine a school’s ranking, implementing standardized tests is not the solution. Speaking as someone whose SAT scores did not reflect her high school GPA, some students just aren’t good test takers. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning untold amounts in the classroom, and isn’t that what’s most important? According to a recent column in the New York Times, colleges and universities are not teaching and challenging students to where they truly should be. It suggests the best way to combat this problem is to give schools a chance to see how they’re doing. However, it also proposes expanding these results to the general public. While schools should have a measure of how students are learning, ranking schools for the purpose of recruiting prospective students takes away from the holistic nature of school selection.
Anonymous self-reporting by college students would be an exponentially better assessment of students’ experiences in the classroom.
This would provide a sense of how students themselves feel their critical thinking skills have grown during their time in college. These responses could then be coupled with a group of randomly selected students whose papers, lab reports or art pieces from the beginning and end of their college careers would be examined by fellow professors. These impartial judges could give a sense of how students in the particular college have grown. Instead of a blind test, these measures could show real improvement in students’ work, which combined with the self-reports, would give a more accurate picture of the learning inside the classroom. Students would have nothing to gain from false reporting, giving them free reign to explain how they believe they have matured.
These products of critical thinking, more than any standardized test, can give administrations and the public a better sense of what the particular school is doing for its students. Rather than expanding the failed No Child Left Behind, colleges and universities should find other measures to test students’ learning besides standardized testing.