According to an article written by The Economist in 2014, “With roughly 55m students, 3m teachers and more than 236,000 schools in 500 districts, Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest education system” (“School’s in,” para. 1). In fact, every Indonesian student has to take the standardized test, no matter whether they want or do not want to take it. However, the yearly national examination is terribly inefficient. The evidence is clearly shown by the OECD 2015, as Indonesia was ranked at 37 or 38 in mathematics, reading, and sciences among 38 evaluated countries (OECD, 2015). Standardized tests are, indeed, the worst way to improve education.
To begin with, standardized tests create inequalities. As a matter of fact, they do not accurately measure students’ abilities since the exams can be culturally biased. For example, consider the situation when a child is asked to identify which picture is a casserole, a dish that can be composed of diverse combinations of things. As stated by Yoon (2009), casseroles in the United States or continental Europe usually consist of pieces of meat or fish, various chopped vegetables, a starchy binder, such as flour, rice, potato or pasta, and often a crunchy or cheesy topping. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, casseroles are very similar to stews. Hence, some students will not be able to correctly identify a casserole, because the picture does not look similar to their country’s casserole. In addition, as confirmed by Reese (2013), technology can also be another cause of unfairness. For example, suppose that there are two students taking the computer-based tests. One student can control the computer and use a mouse because he or she has a computer at home. In contrast, the other one has no computer at home and does not know how to do the test. As a result, it is obvious that the first student will get a higher grade than the second one will get.
Additionally, inequalities arise because standardized tests only favor those who have socio-economic advantages. To illustrate this, it cannot be said that there is a direct correlation between income and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. As Goldfarb (2014) points out, “Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326” as shown in Figure 1.
This result is definitely credible since the test companies do not only manufacture the tests, but also the courses and programs for the test preparation itself. Consequently, if a person has a sufficient amount of money, he or she can easily pay the SAT experts to get some help. Moreover, students from educated families generally perform better on the standardized tests. As reported by Goldfarb (2014), a student whose parent has a graduate degree scores 300 points higher than a student whose parent did not complete his or her high school, as shown in Figure 2.
It is evident that the SAT scores increase as one’s parent becomes more knowledgeable. Although a person doesn’t have enough money to afford the tutors, an educated parent can help his or her child to achieve a satisfying result.
Speaking about discrimination and racism, they are both actually present in standardized tests. As Rosner (2003, para. 3) said, the SAT questions were selected to benefit white people. For instance, all the questions on the October 1998 SAT are answered correctly more by the white students than by the black ones. Furthermore, there was also a series of questions on the 2006 global history New York State Regents exam that obviously contained racism. Conforming to Einhorn (2006, para. 3), the passage elaborated on how the British cut off the slave trade, reduced famine, and reduced disease. The question asked students to describe two methods of how the British improved Africans’ lives.
Another issue is that standardized tests cause many limitations. It cannot be said that these systems of testing kill students’ creativity. In accordance with an article by Mother Jones in 2011, society needs a history student who can think, but the standardized history test doesn’t measure any of the critical thinking skills (“What Standardized Tests Miss,” para. 13). In this case, Mr. Roth is definitely correct since standardized tests, in general, only require students to memorize facts and formulas. Furthermore, standardized tests only have multiple choice questions, which cannot nurture students to think outside of the box. In the article by The Korean Herald in 2015, Mr. Lee Won-key, the vice president of Seoul National University of Education, said that the multiple choice questions teach the students to think that there is only one answer to any given problem (“Multiple choice testing can ‘smother creativity’,” para. 3).
Standardized tests do not only limit creativity but also narrow down the curriculum. As Stecher and Barron (1999) point out, teachers modify the curriculum so that the subjects are matched with what is being tested that year. To illustrate this, according to McMurrer (2007), since the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), there were substantial increases in the amount of time spent on language arts and math in elementary schools: 47% increase in language arts and a 37% increase in math. As a result, students will not be able to explore other subjects that are not included in the standardized tests. Hence, their opportunities to learn what they actually want are limited. Furthermore, together with the limited curriculum, teachers only teach to the tests. In other words, students are only taught the materials or styles that are in the exams. Consequently, the students will more likely to do deep memorization since the pattern is repeated.
The next problem is that standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience and learning. Students are judged based on sets of numbers, which is dehumanizing. For example, a student can have a very advanced knowledge of a particular subject but does not receive any acknowledgments because of his or her poor grades. As Trépanier (2014) said, many gifted students are not fostered to get high scores because of various reasons, such as boredom, lack of a challenging curriculum, coexisting learning disabilities, and so on (para. 2). Furthermore, if a student has abilities to do research, experiment, or to create a hands-on project, he or she cannot show it on the standardized tests. Indeed, this restriction is due to the fact that the exams only assess students’ abilities to answer various theoretical questions.
In addition, standardized tests also give disadvantages to the students. In reality, children are forced to study for the tests from early ages. According to an article by the New York Daily News in 2013, multiple-choice questions and bubble answer sheets cause the four and five-year-old students to feel bewildered (Monahan, para. 2-3). Furthermore, Monahan (2013) also points out that in one Washington Heights, the standardized tests were canceled for kindergarteners after 80% of parents decided to opt out (para 1). Moreover, in accordance with the Goodstart Early Learning (2016), children are also supposed to play since that is the best way for them to learn. Based on a study done by the graduate school of education at the Harvard University, at the age of seven, children’s language improved when teachers let them be free to do whatever they want (Wilson, 2009, para. 5).
On the other hand, these tests also cause stress to students. In the article written by Wilde (2016), the students need to get qualifying scores in order to proceed to the next grade. To illustrate this, there is a case in Florida where 8 year old children will be held back whenever they failed the tests. Also, according to Spector (2015), the Common Core learning tests have increased students’ anxiety (para. 5). Obviously, the uneasiness comes because students have to perform under high pressures: they have to master all the given materials.
In fact, standardized tests also lead to grade retention and dropping out. In accordance with Watkins (2011), in 2002, California’s High School dropout rate had increased from less than 11 percent to nearly 22 percent (para. 3). As Watkins (2011) said, the reason was simply to improve the standardized test scores. The easiest way to do accomplish this goal is by banning the poor performing students from taking the test, which in turn forced them to drop out. Furthermore, these exams result in grade retention as well. According to the FairTest, “After years of claiming that stressing standardized tests and flunking students with low scores would lead to educational improvement, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced the highest grade retention rate since its test-based promotion policy began in 1996 (see Examiner, Fall 1997). More than 13,000 thousand students are currently repeating a grade (“Testing Leads to Grade Retention,” para. 1).
In conclusion, standardized tests are definitely inefficient in improving learning quality. These exams cause cultural, socio-economical, and racial unfairness. Furthermore, limitations are established since creativities are abolished, the curriculum is narrowed down, and the learning experience is reduced. Speaking about the negative impacts on the students, high-stakes tests ruin children’s childhoods, create stress for students, and make students fail in their schools. Standardized tests are important, but the system must be changed in order to increase efficiency.
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