"There's only one thing worse than requiring students to reduce all learning to a single "correct" answer, and that is reducing assessment and accountability to a single standardized test," (from an article by Bob Peterson and Monty Neill).
past tense: standardized
1.) to cause (something) to conform to a standard.
2.)systematize, make consistent, make uniform, make comparable, regulate, normalize, bring into line, equalize, homogenize, regiment
gerund or present participle: testing
1.) take measures to check the quality, performance, or reliability of something
2.) try out, put to the test, put through its paces, experiment with
That word, “standardized” is totally acceptable… if we’re talking about the military. But (contrary to popular belief) a class of students is not the same thing as a military regiment. You can’t systematize learning. There is no logical “norm” to the way a student learns.
And then there’s that word that makes every student cringe… testing.
Testing is defined above as taking measures to check the quality, performance, or reliability of something. Is a student’s quality of work, performance in class (and in general), and/or sense of reliability and responsibility being measured while answering a true/false question? What about multiple choice?
No. The answer is no.
Arguments for standardized testing describe that they focus specifically on essential content and skills. However, arguments against it question the meaning of “essential.” Choosing between A, B, C, D, and E cannot accurately measure a student’s critical thinking, creativity, or in-depth understanding, let alone curiosity, leadership, motivation, or any real skills that are applicable to adult life. Instead, these tests focus specifically on those pesky little insignificant facts that escape your mind the day after the test. While people who advocate for standardized testing might say that tests eliminate wasted time in the classroom by focusing entirely on the prescribed content, others see focusing entirely on this content as wasting time. Classroom time is meant to be spent on learning, not on preparing for tests.
Another argument is that many teachers and school administrators advocate for standardized tests, but, newsflash, they’re not the ones taking the tests (source).
As one of those totally insignificant people who are taking the tests, I do not advocate for these tests. Setting aside the fact that they are in no way intellectually stimulating, they are also extremely ineffective.
Apparently, these tests are designed to compare the performance of students in an efficient way. Whether or not we should be comparing the students to one another is a whole other subject that deserves its own post. In short, though, no. We shouldn’t be.
If, however, schools decide that we should be comparing students, one specific test spread out over a few days at the end of the semester or school year cannot serve as the primary source for these comparisons. No one test can do this. Especially not these tests.
These tests are scored by human beings. Real, living, breathing, and naturally subjective human beings. How are subjective scores at all “efficient?”
All in all, there are many problems with our testing and sorting systems today. But, unfortunately, there is no magical hat that sorts you into honors, AP, or regular level classes. Something needs to evaluate us. And, as it always is, that’s the hardest part. Change is always the hardest part.
An alternative that I found online is "Performance Based Assessment Tasks" or "PBATs", which are used in Consortium Schools. Basically, there is a specific task to assess abilities in each subject. These involve written and oral examinations relative to the content taught in the class. The tasks involve thought-provoking questions and the actual application of your knowledge, rather than simply stating facts that you've studied to know off of the back of your hand. The tasks may be developed by the teachers or the students, therefore eliminating that dreadful aspect of uniform learning. Testing is not a standardized assessment, but rather a serious evaluation of a student's acquired skill. As shown in the PDF (linked above), the PBATs are graded by a specific rubric, rather than guided by one specific answer. This encourages what I have previously referred to as "Divergent Thinking"
An article from "Rethinking Schools" suggests a "portfolio based assessment." The work of a student is kept in a portfolio and accumulates over time to be assessed at the end of a given period. This gives the student time to grow and shows progress, rather than stuffing all of the work into a couple hours' time. This encourages the student's growth and the teacher's consistent vigilance concerning it.
Alternatives such as the PBATs and Portfolio Based Assessment are very effective and efficient methods of testing. But, as always, these things are hard to change. It is important to think of ways to replace these "Standardized Pests" and to encourage different ways to think about learning and testing. While students might advocate for ridding of testing completely, we know that's not going to happen. Developing realistic and achievable replacements such as Performance Based Assessment Tasks and Portfolio Based Assessments are the first step to real change. Communicate ideas, encourage in-depth thinking, and mostly, don't allow your learning to be standardized.