People often ask me why I oppose the standardized testing that has come to control so much of public education. During my dissertation work for my doctorate, I spent three years reading every research article on standardized testing effects from the past 40 years.
Thousands of pages of research document the growing effects of high-stakes testing on public school curriculum and instruction across the country and the significant failure of standardized tests to improve schools over the past four decades. At the heart of the discussion sits a singular problem.
Standardized testing is built on the multiple-choice test. By its very nature, the multiple-choice test has serious limitations in what it can tell us about the lived experience of a human being in their adolescent stages of development over an extended period of time.
When a sixth-grade student spends 180-360 hours receiving English Language Arts instruction over a nine month school year, with that instruction built around dozens of learning standards made up of hundreds of language concepts, it is inherently impossible to design a multiple-choice test that will cover such an experience.
When children walk away from such a test, because of the limits on what a multiple-choice exam can do, they have only been assessed on less than 20-percent of the state standards for that school year, and even this limited connection to the standards is weak. Any claims contrary to this are an outright lie. There is a reason we do not use multiple-choice tests generally in life outside of education. They are a ruse.
They are simply an instrument designed to generate quick and easy results that are easily graded, graphed, and charted. Yet, what they reveal about the test taker and their knowledge is extremely limited. Realizing these limitations, multiple-choice tests are not found in life after high school for most of us, and rightly so.
There is a mythology that has developed around state test scores or any standardized state exam, that some psychometrician or committee of experts somewhere stumbled upon some kind of magic algorithm or magic multiple-choice test question design that allows for the state or federal government to break through the limitations of a multiple-choice test and tell us everything we need to know about a child’s mastery of hundreds of concepts in a particular subject area. The learning and teaching process is too dynamic, too complex, to genuinely assess with the faulty instrument of multiple-choice tests.
The problem educators face in opposing standardized testing is the industry has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise where legislators needing a quick and easy piece of data with which they can control schools, have married their political agendas to these richer-than-rich testing companies who provide the easy test scores the politician needs to sway public opinion.
Standardized testing is the cash cow that keeps on giving to these private companies, relentlessly milking the American citizenry of tax dollars so that we can create more and more multiple-choice test scores that tell us very little about our children and their learning, yet have come to control the very foundations of the public school classroom. The reality is that politicians, who control the purse strings of education and want to reform or improve public schools, have lied to the American public for the past 40 years that with more multiple-choice testing on even broader levels, we will improve teachers, schools, and student learning. Yet, nothing shows such improvement has happened.
Instead, in education systems built around multiple-choice testing, we begin to cheapen the curriculum, force creativity and higher-level thinking out of the classroom, and narrow the focus over time to a limited set of tested standards.
Do educators want to improve education? Of course they do. Do they want to build this improvement around multiple-choice tests? No. Why? Because we know the limitations of such exams in telling us about the children in our classrooms.
There are far better ways to improve and reform education, when it is needed, and far better ways to assess the lived experience of our children in our public schools. Yet, with the political machine incomprehensibly fixated on multiple-choice tests, the standardized testing movement grows stronger and stronger each year and pushes the power and creativity of our amazing teachers to the margins as we standardize the curriculum to meet the false demands and results of a multiple-choice testing system. In a nutshell, this is why I oppose standardized testing.
“Multiple-choice tests are not found in life after high school for most of us, and rightly so.”