Let’s face it. Not everyone is a fan of standardized testing. It stresses out students, parents and even teachers. And very often, it ends up driving the curriculum and teaching of a classroom. We’ve all heard of teaching to the test, and I don’t think any of us can deny it occasionally happens.
First, testing is not a new concept. Assessing students in one form or another has been the preferred method of understanding student learning since Socrates’ time. Although his testing method was very informal conversations, a significant difference than today, he still recognized the necessity of checking how well his students were learning the material. As teaching methods and content changed through the centuries, along with the number and type of students, so to the assessment methods have also had to change. From the informal testing of Socrates, to more formal testing such spelling and math tests as called for by Horace Mann, to the creation of what we know today as the College Board in 1900, the creation of more in-depth standardized testing seemed almost inevitable.
Second, with standards, comes the need for testing. Like assessment, standards in education are not a new idea, nor is the Federal government’s involvement in education. In 1965, the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed as a portion of Lyndon B. Johnson’s plan to combat poverty. The act, which was reauthorized by ensuing Presidents every five years, has morphed over time and in many ways no longer looks like the original bill. In fact, it has changed formats several times, but in general, it still works to close the gaps in education between the varying groups of students. National standards were first envisioned under President Clinton’s reauthorization in 1994, and they have simply widened in measure through the years and expanded to become the Common Core State Standards as we know them today.
These two elements, the history of testing and the more recent history of standards, combine to explain, in part, the current necessity of standardized testing as we know it today. As long as standards exist, as long as schools and educators are going to subscribe to using academic standards, it becomes necessary to have a method to assess the accuracy of those standards. As Socrates recognized centuries ago, educators must have a way to determine if the current curriculum is being taught the way we think it is, and if students are learning what we think they are learning. Within our current framework, standardized testing helps us do just that. It’s not a perfect method, but it allows us a glimpse into how our students are processing what we think they are processing.
But, the reality is, when it comes to our students, it does not matter if we personally believe in the necessity of standards or the benefits of standardized testing. As educators, we have an obligation to help our students be successful within the current system. We can work to change things, work to modify the system, but we cannot let personal frustrations and opinions hold our students back. As long as standardized testing remains a necessity, understanding the tests and helping students prepare for them will remain a necessity as well.