Standardized “Objective” Tests

Standardized objective tests appear to have become the agreed-upon criteria for evaluating the “effectiveness” of teachers and schools in educating students. Regardless of all the rhetoric, it’s fairly clear that such tests are more or less accurate in measuring the retention of selected facts and skills.  What the tests don’t measure is the ability to think or the ability to integrate and employ a wide range of knowledge and skills in resolving problems or creating something.  Beyond those shortcomings, which are considerable in themselves, the widespread and growing use of such tests raises other questions.

These so-called objective tests, implemented on a wider and wider scale, also have additional negative impacts – on the students required to take them, the teachers whose performance is evaluated by their results, and on society itself.

Several of the impacts on students don’t even seem to be recognized by either the proponents or opponents of standardized testing.  The first impact is the creation of a mindset that there is indeed a simple and objective answer to every question and problem.  The second impact is that it conditions the students to confine their thoughts and abilities to the simplistic scope of the problem presented.  The tests and the teaching to those tests create a compartmentalization of learning. There is, in my mind, a definite correlation between the continued growth of standardized testing and the growing inability of students to apply skills learned in one area in another.  The third impact is that linguistic and logical skills are suffering, in that students seldom have to marshal facts and ideas and create a logical written or verbal presentation of those ideas – especially on the spot.  What ever happened to the class essay that developed that skill?  It’s gone, in most schools, and so are the skills.  A fourth outgrowth of these combined problems is that more and more students literally require detailed step-by-step directions to accomplish various tasks, to the point where a significant percentage of those students have lost the ability to follow general directions or to look beyond the obvious for answers.

As for the teachers… first off, the increasing use of standardized tests has reduced actual classroom instructional time.  A student isn’t learning when the student is taking tests.  The second problem for teachers is that, if the teacher doesn’t spend some time teaching the students how to take the tests, as well as teaching to the tests, the students will get lower scores and in the short run, that penalizes both the teacher and the students.  But such “teaching” further reduces the amount of time available for learning other material.  The third problem is that teaching for objective tests reduces the intellectual scope of the subject matter.  This, in turn, fosters simplistic explanations, and simplistic explanations certainly contribution to social and political polarization.

In turn, the growth of simplistics and social and political polarization impedes political consensus and thus makes resolution of political and government problems increasingly difficult and contributes to simplistic mechanical/technical and short term business practices.

And, of course, there is the failure to acknowledge that it’s virtually impossible to create a truly “objective” test or presentation of facts in the first place, and this creates an illusion of objectivity that doesn’t exist in the real world. So, by all means, keep expanding the use of objective testing so that students know more facts about even less, without even the ability to recognize that… and then claim success in “reforming” and improving education.


4 thoughts on “Standardized “Objective” Tests”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    Too much worrying about the *&%&#@# numbers!

    …. to paraphrase my favorite author.

  2. Therman says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    “mindset that there is indeed a simple and objective answer to every question and problem”

    In “hard” sciences and math, there ought to be, although sometimes it has to allow for a set of answers, or for specified uncertainty.

    In humanities, while there are some rationalizations that stretch credibility, there’s a lot of room for interpretation, although cherry-picking the evidence should never be used to expand that room. Even there, I favor the notion that there are absolutes, even if there’s nobody paying attention to hear the tree fall.

    As you acknowledge, standardized tests can be more or less effective at measurements within their limitations. The absence of them would be at least as bad as their over-use: should tests rather be subjective and non-comparable?

    Sadly, few students OR teachers want to evaluate a scenario in sufficient depth to produce (or grade) a substantial written answer. I didn’t, especially not when held rigorously to justifying my premises.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    @ R. Hamilton:

    Well said: I didn’t like my medical school professors and clinical instructors much when they pointed out my mistakes… who likes to have their failures hammered home? But, it fulfills an important process, even when there are mixed messages and outright contradictions in critiques because critical thinking skills are dying on the vine.

    And it is easier for a student to look at numbers on a page saying that his work was sub-par rather than hearing it directly from an instructor or school administrator.

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