Standardized testing flaws

Standardized testing is limiting academic performance evaluation

Standardized testing is limiting academic performance evaluation | Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Last semester went by so fast that it almost caught me off guard. There were highs, lows, surprises and a few significant revelations. I am compelled to discuss the most noteworthy of my fall semester. I took a certain chemistry course which had a lab component. Initially, it was not too difficult. It required literally the same amount of effort as typical 200-level chemistry course. In addition to the lab component, it had midterms, assignments and participation marks.

I worked hard in that course and, as we usually do as students, I ranked the courses in terms of risk, whether high or low. I confidently ranked the course in my mind as a low risk so I expected a fair grade in the course. I did well on the midterms, assignments, participation exercises and the lab reports. Naturally I expected an A, wouldn’t you? The final exam was worth 45 per cent. That did not phase me, though. I ripped through the content in preparation for the exam and went in aiming for an A in the course.

I was slapped across the face by reality.

While writing the exam, realizing my extreme lack of preparation, I resorted to calculating what I would need to simply pass. I entered the dreadful exam expecting a beautiful A, but left praying for a D- just to pass the course.

Time and time again we question what education actually is.

A strong argument can be raised that route memorization, regurgitation and the application of published logic does not always constitute as “learning.” The article published in The Cord, ‘Is scholarly credibility holding us back?’ by Mitchell Consky argued that education can lead to unnecessary dependency of other minds.

My issue of contention at this moment is not with what society calls education or learning, even though I do believe the societal definitions are heavily skewed and misunderstood. I believe there is something wrong with the yardstick we use to measure a student’s academic performance.

There is something fundamentally wrong with using standardized tests/evaluations to draw a conclusion about the knowledge of a student on a certain subject.

Generally speaking, a large portion of the world employs the use of tests as their primary indicator of educational triumph. Examples include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.

The use of tests does not comprehensively test the mastery of knowledge. Its use is widely employed all across the globe merely because it is a simple, quantitative method of analysis to obtain results which can be quantified.

Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to using tests like students being able to see their progress, teachers being able to spot teaching technique weaknesses and the government being able to analyze the results and areas lacking.

But let’s now see the complete picture. What about those students who are not good at testing? What about those students who do well throughout the course and just had a bad exam day? What about those students who battle with anxiety and stress because their entire academic future might be dependent on one mark?

Are these not points to encourage talks of re-evaluation on standardized testing?

Here is some interesting food for thought. Students in Finland are some of the top performers on international tests.

Standardized testing is not implemented in that country. It is safe to say they are going against the grain and are reaping great results.

According to the website, Lessons from Abroad, “Assessments are used as a tool for professional development and to help teachers gauge student growth, never for accountability.” In the rest of the world, it’s the reverse.

I am growing more and more to believe there is such rampant lethargy in our educational system that calling for a qualitative assessment approach is like asking your dog to speak English.

We are encouraged to fix things when they are broken, but how long do we have to wait before the guys in suits are able to see that a genuine repair is required?

For now, we are condemned to exams telling us whether we are smart or dumb, whether we pass a course or fail or whether we will make it in life or not.

Until the great revelation comes, let’s wait with baited breath.

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