Do Standardized Tests Do More Harm Than Good?


Do standardized tests help or harm students? And is the U.S. actually overtesting? By now, we’ve all heard the refrain that
one of the biggest issues with the current state of education in the U.S. is overtesting. And on top of sometimes dominating course
curriculum, standardized tests can often provoke anxiety, anger, and stress regardless of how
they’re used. Even though standardized tests may seem as
American as A. A Maple Leaf, B. Apple Pie, C. Soccer, or D. All of the above, the question
still remains: Do standardized tests do more harm than good for students? So sharpen your pencils and get ready for
a whole lot of bad test jokes because we’re about to dive pretty deep into the world of
tests. And to answer this big question, first we
have to ask: Exactly how many standardized tests are U.S.
students taking each year? A 2015 article from the Washington Post, drawing
on data from the Council of Great City Schools, reports that on average students from 66 major
urban schools in the US take 112 mandated standardized tests between Pre-K and 12th
grade. 8th graders in that set tended to average
the highest number of hours for mandated exams, weighing in at 25.3 hours in the hot seat
over the course of the school year. And students as young as pre-k took approximately
4 standardized tests. So even those little baby hands are hard at
work choosing answers and filling in the blanks. But keep in mind this doesn’t consider the
number of hours educators need to prep students for the tests which takes considerable time
away from the mandated curriculum. As a result the Department of Education issued
action plans in 2015 and 2016 to reduce the amount of standardized testing in order to
focus more attention on the quality of the tests and what exactly they were measuring. They also suggested that the percentage of
class time spent on standardized testing should be capped at 2%. Ok so we got a quick rundown on how many tests
some students nationwide are taking every year and it’s quite a lot. But that brings us to our next question: What are the origins of standardized testing
in the U.S.? And what was their purpose? According to the National Education Association,
testing in the U.S. started to change between 1840 and 1875. That’s when schools began to shift their
mission from educating primarily the wealthy elites to educating bigger swaths of the population. This shift was also marked by a gravitation
towards written testing, instead of the old standard of oral examinations. But 19th century educators were starting to
see if there were ways to measure student performance for the purposes of college admissions
and subject placement. In 1890, Harvard’s President Charles William
Eliot proposed a common entrance exams for colleges, and in 1900, the College Entrance
Examination Board (who you most likely know as the folks who administer the SAT) was established,
administering their first subject exams in 1901. The U.S. army’s use of certain aptitude
tests during WWI also helped to inspire the spread of use of standardized tests in schools
and in 1926 the first SAT was administered. Then in 1935, the first high speed computers
were used to process tests across the country, which greatly reduced the cost of grading
and administering them which meant that now schools could administer more tests more often. Since then there have been a variety of initiatives
and government programs to oversee the administration of tests nationwide. So stressed students and school administrators
today can trace the test craze back into the 19th century. But although the data I cited earlier makes
it obvious that American students take a lot of tests, that doesn’t mean it’s inherently
bad or harmful to students. So, what if these tests work? Or what if we’re testing students in the
U.S. on average to other peer systems? So to tackle this idea, it’s important to
find some more data points and ask: How does the U.S. compare internationally
with countries that test at higher and lower rates? So in order to ask this question, I wanted
to look at some information on how U.S. students, as a whole, measure up internationally against
others and then see what those countries’ policies on standardized testing are. So since we started with numbers from 2015,
I also checked out the Pew Research Center’s published findings from the 2015 PISA (or
Program for International Student Assessment) exams. The exam is administered every 3 years and
measures: reading ability, math, and science proficiency, in 15 year olds around the world,
among other skills. And those findings show that of the 72 countries
that participated, the US ranked 40th in math, 25th in science and 24th in reading. And in the 35 members of the Organization
For Economic Cooperation and Development the US ranked 31st in math and 19th in science. But before I make one too many jokes about
a test acronym that brings to mind the leaning tower of PISA, I started to look at nations
that ranked higher than the U.S. with different relationships to testing: The first would
be the oft cited example of Finland, which issues significantly fewer standardized tests
than the U.S. and the other would be South Korea, where students are tested at a more
rigorous rate than students in the U.S. (at least in terms of the difficulty of the exams
and the significance placed on testing scores). So let’s start with Finland. In the same PISA scores from 2015, Finland
ranked 5th in Science, 11th in Math, and 4th in reading, with PISA marking all three of
these scores as being significantly higher than US students. And this trend of being near the top of the
pack has been relatively consistent for the nation, at least going back to its 2010 PISA
scores. As I mentioned back in our episode on “why
do we get grades in school?” Finland has a significantly lower rate of
standardized testing when compared with the U.S. So instead of the approximately 112 mandatory
exams that students in urban schools were taking between pre-k and 12th grade, the Finnish
equivalent is 1 standardized test. Yeah, you heard me right: one mandatory standardized
test. But before we start a rousing refrain of “One
is the Loneliest Number” let’s see how students and teachers in Finland respond to
the lower testing rates. Their 1 mandatory test isn’t taken until
a student is rounding the corner at the end of high school. Instead, there’s a greater focus on teacher
and student interactions, and improving the classroom experience. Also of note is that Finland largely does
not have private schools and public schools are funded relatively equally, unlike the
U.S. where there are a plethora of high schools and even elementary schools with price tags
comparable to colleges and schools can have vastly disparate budgets based on local taxes. Although, on average Finland isn’t spending
more per student than the U.S. On the other hand, South Korea mirrors much
of Finland’s success in student outcomes, with a higher high school graduation rate
and better college placement rates than the U.S., with a whopping 70% of students enrolling
in college. And if you thought that kids in the U.S. who
took oodles of SAT and ACT prep courses in high school were being stretched to the limit,
it doesn’t compare to their South Korean peers, where some reports show that children
are gearing up for their important college entrance exams as early as elementary school. Students are encouraged to take private lessons
and extra classes to keep up in the highly competitive college placement stakes, with
some low income families spending up to 1/3 of their incomes on education expenses to
help children place well. The tests are mandatory to move on to college
and extremely high pressure. So even though the test is only 1 day, much
of the focus of students’ schooling revolves around preparing for the College Scholastic
Aptitude Test, even as early as kindergarten. And South Korean students are also scoring
well, not only on their national exams, but are outperforming their US peers on PISA. In 2015, they ranked 10th in science, 6th
in math and 7th in reading, all scores that PEW marked as significantly better than the
US. But while some have praised South Korea and
Finland’s outcomes, citing their stellar scores, job placements, high high school graduation
rates, and university enrollments, others note that the size of the student population
in these 2 countries are fairly small, with more homogenous populations. And the US on the other hand is spread across
50 states with differing economic circumstances and greater diversity. Also, even though South Korean students perform
better than their US counterparts, there have also been high suicide rates in students age
17-24, who don’t perform well in these tests because they can determine so much of their
future. So how does it all add up? So it seems that a lot of the question around
whether standardized tests do more harm than good center not only on the frequency of
the testing, but also the importance placed on the test themselves and how influential
the results of a certain exam are on a student’s future success in life. In the US we test often, but critics note
that the testing is sometimes scatter shot, without a clear objective. So rather than using tests to determine student
progress, the myriad of mandated exams draw students and teachers away from time spent
on other lesson plans. So over using standardized tests is a big
issue, but so is forcing students to place too much importance on a test in determining
their future prospects. What do you think? Are standardized tests doing more harm than
good? And is there another model outside of the
3 here that you would propose for approaching tests? Drop them below, check out the works cited
and we’ll see you next week. Hey guys! Or should I say “high heels for guys!”
since I’m still sorting through your comments and questions from last week’s episode on
“when men wore high heels.” Here’s what some of you had to say! So some folks wanted to add a few touch points
to our high heel timeline and I’m going to detail them here: Servant74 on Youtube and Mimi Wright on Facebook
pointed out that heeled boots are still standard footwear for a lot of horseback riders. And since I’ve never done any serious horse
riding (because pony rides at the county fair probably don’t count) I’d like to thank
them both for the update! Adri Cortesia and Kendra Caruso asked if high
heels were worn by butchers to help them avoid the blood and guts on the floor. So this is a really interesting question and
I’m still trying to find an answer. Because so far, all I can find is that this
story is relatively popular on pinterest and other self reported sites that claim that
butchers (specifically in Ancient Egypt) wore high heels for this purpose. But I want to find some more definitive hard
evidence on this before I weigh in, so stay on your toes and I’ll follow up with what
I find out next week! Also thanks to Callum North, The Hard Problem,
and Cuzican Aerospace who pointed out on Youtube that there are 3 other instances of men’s fancy footwear
which in order: Cuban heels, 1970s glam rockers (like Gene Simmons) and Platform shoes worn
in Ancient Greek Theatre. Thanks a lot friends! So, that’s it for now and we’ll see you
next week!

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