The Pros and Cons of Student Testing

By Crystal Chan, Clarion Staff

Finals, tests, quizzes, and exams. When many students hear any of these words, they probably start groaning from the stress caused by them. Why is it so stressful? Maybe it’s due to the fact that it will break you and your well-built grades in a flash once you fail. Tests are able to show you how well you’ve mastered a subject, so can it be a good thing? That depends on how you look at tests.

Student Testing

A plus or two for testing.

As stated before, testing evaluates to what degree you understand your subject. The Atlantic states “tests ask students to look into their wells of knowledge, locate information, and express that knowledge on paper. Many tests, including standardized tests, SATs and IQ test, are designed to measure developed knowledge or abilities.” With tests, students are able to see what they have learned over the course of the curriculum and whether or not they need more help on a specific problem. It is a great way of knowing what to focus on in the future and allows students to improve themselves. Teachers and families also use tests as feedback to see the progress of the students. Teachers are able to decide what they need to teach and where they need focus. Lelac Almagor, writer of the Boston Review, comments, “Without standardized testing – and lacking any other basis for comparison in their own educational experience – the students’ families had no way of knowing…that their hard working, solid – GPA kids were already far behind.” Without tests, teachers are not sure if the students fully understand what they are learning or if they have mastered the skills needed.

Now, some reasons why testing can be bad.

Tests create stress for both students and teachers. For students, it is the stress of trying to achieve a good grade. A student’s reaction to a teacher’s reminder that a final exam is coming up next week may induce stress that triggers the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous and endocrine systems. According to Nicky Hayes, editor of Foundations of Psychology, a common responses to “exam stress,” as Hayes characterizes it, include disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, worry, irregular eating habits, increased infections, and inability to concentrate.

For teachers, it is trying to teach the class everything they need to know for the test. AP Chemistry teacher at Kennedy, Mrs. Horgan, explains, “I want to make sure that I have covered all of the material on the tests and make sure that the students are given all of the resources they need to do well.” Also, some of these tests aren’t always able to show what a student knows or what skills they have obtained.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond states that a performance assessment, such as projects, makes students become “critical and creative problem solvers because they are going to run into barriers and obstacles that need to be solved in order to complete this major project.” These assessments show a student’s skills in collaborating with others and working together to solve a problem, which are becoming increasingly important in jobs. However, a multiple choice test does not show how students found the solution or why they chose the method they wanted. Tests only show students getting the right or wrong answer without assessing their understanding of the problem and their method of tackling it. Sometimes, tests generate information that make one able to analyze important skills needed, such as comprehension and evaluation, but other equally important skills, like teamwork, are left out.

Recently, the Obama administration has called for a limit on testing in schools. A new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools states about 112 mandatory standardized tests are given between kindergarten and high school graduation, which is about 8 tests a year. In eighth grade, these tests can take up about 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3% of school time.

This extended period on testing is shown in the survey to have no real effect on the improvement of academic performance, measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This survey seems to indicate that tests have not contributed to the learning process of students and do not serve the purpose that they are meant for. With this evidence, the administration has urged schools to make exams more purposeful and less stressful.

Many teachers, parents, and leaders of boards of education are rejoiceful about the news, but some worry about eliminating tests that may actually identify weaknesses in students. “What happens if somebody puts a cap on testing, and to meet the cap ends up eliminating tests that could actually be helpful, or leaves the redundancy in the test and gets rid of a test that teachers can use to inform their instruction?” asked Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of Great City Schools. This problem has started to make schools ask questions of what exactly counts as a test that properly supports the growth of education.

Is testing really needed? Many students study for tests but soon enough, over the summer or break, they forget all of it. Tests end up evaluating something that students remember for the moment.

Finals force students to review everything they have learned, but does it truly evaluate what we know?

Is it just something that decides how well we can take educated guesses on problems or what sort of fast methods we use to get over an obstacle?

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