When I taught 6th grade it was difficult because I was asked to teach students to perform on standardized tests. Average test scores for each class were published in the local newspaper and everyone knew how well I taught my students. This put a lot of pressure upon me as the teacher. But since I knew I was only going to be teaching for the one year, and then quitting to stay home with my son, I didn’t teach so students could perform well on the tests. I tried to incorporate as much hands-on learning as possible, where students were given a chance to explore and discover things for themselves. I used textbooks only when I couldn’t find anything else to supplement with. My reading program was taken from novels that we read as a class or in small groups. My students loved me and a number of them had more success in my class than they had had previously. This told me that my methods were working. I will say that my students didn’t perform as well on the standardized tests as the other 6th grade classes, but overall I believe they were better prepared to enter the 7th grade.
So how important are the scores in determining the knowledge gained and learning that has taken place throughout the year? Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, has stated, Standardized tests “do not measure the ability to write, to use math, to make meaning from text when reading, to understand scientific methods or reasoning, or to grasp social science concepts. Nor do these tests adequately measure thinking skills or assess what people can do on real-world tasks.” So in other words they can’t measure a students’ actual intelligence or ability to think and reason.
Today psychologists know that knowledge is gained by connecting what is already known with what the person is trying to learn. A person must actively make meaning out of what they are doing in order to learn and remember it. Standardized tests are based on the recall of isolated facts. Teaching so students will score high on standardized tests requires that teachers teach isolated facts. They don’t have time to delve in to why something happens or why a formula works a certain way just how to apply it. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (Schmidt et al., 1997) said that the American math and science curriculum is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” A lot of facts are taught but there is no depth or meaning to the subjects.
There are better ways to test students’ knowledge and as a teacher they are more useful. Standardized tests don’t tell a teacher how a student thinks or learns, so the teacher can’t use it as a guide to help the student. Instead of using standardized tests we should use teacher observation, documentation of student work, and performance-based assessments. Although harder to standardize across the nation they are a better assessment of a student’s knowledge.
Removing standardized tests from the schools would free teachers to teach students the why’s not just the how. It would give students a chance to think and create in the real world. After all life isn’t a standardized test and education is supposed to be preparing students for their adult life. Hopefully someday the education system will realize the inadequacies of standardized tests, but until then our children will just have to suffer through them.