Standardized Tests: Confining the World

Education is the social institution guiding a society’s transmission of knowledge including basic facts, job skills and also cultural norms and values to its members (Macionis 2008). Today standardized tests are used to categorize students into structured career paths. Standardized tests are administered, scored, and interpreted in a consistent way, so that the performances of large groups of students can be compared. They are often used for to determine which students will pass or graduate, which teachers are “good” or “bad” and which schools are recognized nationwide. There are various types of standardized tests: Intelligence Quota (IQ) tests, aptitude tests and achievement tests. The differences among the aforementioned is IQ tests measure broad abilities and what is learned under relatively less standardized settings while aptitude tests measure potential to understand what was taught whereas achievement tests measure specific abilities learned under more standardized conditions.

Education is a distinct form of secondary socialization and is legally sanctioned for the deliberate instruction of students. In this way it is able to continue the control and indoctrination of people which reinforces the social structure of inequalities. M.G. Smith and Comitas (2008) demonstrated that the formal educational system in the Caribbean was designed to impose “cultural arbitraries” of more powerful groups on those who were subordinate. Thus instruction in educational institutions is based on mandatory curricula that have been developed to prepare students for standardized tests. These mandated curricula come with scripted lessons and pacing guides that determine when content should be taught. Likewise the hidden curriculum teaches the kind of person that the structure requires as certain kinds of knowledge is disseminated or with-held based on gender, race and social status. Those in power inform and influence the content and knowledge imparted to students to reinforce social order (Dale et al. 1976).

In the Caribbean, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) was established in 1972 under Agreement by the Participating Governments in the Area, creating a space for Caribbean people to excel within their cultural setting and to assure global human resource competitiveness through “syllabuses of the highest quality, valid and reliable examinations and certificates of international repute for students of all ages, abilities and interests (“Caribbean Examinations Council” 2016).” Though the step of creating and implementing the CXC reduced some cultural bias of the Europeans it was replaced by another group of wealthy elites controlling the system.

Teachers get frustrated with this flawed mechanism. I long for a more effective way to teach and test students because currently teaching goes off very well but evaluation is something that literally causes cringing by both students and teachers. But the reality is, for students to accomplish anything outside the education institution they must go through the motions and robotically regurgitate information to satisfy a standardized test that is biased and riddled with inequalities on all levels. Today strengthening or letting our students’ minds soar to new heights is not a requirement of the teaching profession. Teachers are required to perform institutional tasks like collecting, organizing, and analyzing data associated with tests, grouping students according to test performance, developing curriculum to align with tests and coordinating students’ assignments based on test scores (National Council of Teachers of English, 2014). As a result teachers have less time for instruction in their classes.

This week the government of Trinidad and Tobago awarded scholarships at the cost of TT$61.6 million dollars. However in the midst of congratulating and rewarding students’ for their hard work under this standardized testing system (CXC: CAPE) of the region, the Minister of Education stated that the government will have to “develop new policies” as “scholarships should be aligned to the country’s developmental needs” and he suggested a “cap” in certain subject areas (Trinidad and Tobago Newsday 2016). Now I’m not saying that there must be no criteria for awarding scholarships to students who have earned it; to pave their way through university and create highly trained human resources to increase and sustain the growth of the nation but this “cap” for “developmental needs” strongly suggests that the government would rather dictate specific areas that students should focus and excel in, according to the various and quite ambiguous developmental strategies that we have adopted from foreign scholars.

Standardized tests limit student learning because they focus on academia only, ignoring other qualities essential to student success. Secondary school graduates lack important qualities such as curiosity, conscientiousness, perseverance, critical thinking and the ability to collaborate effectively because educators are forced by the system to teach students to succeed on standardized tests (Persaud 2016). Another limitation on student learning results from the negative perceptions standardized tests can give to students about themselves and their own abilities (National Council of Teachers of English, 2014). As a result, students shut down in classes and do not want to open up for fear of being wrong or fear of rejection for possessing different abilities or not feeling like they are good enough. This has to stop!

Policy Recommendations

Standardized tests have many negative effects on student learning (National Council of Teachers of English, 2014) therefore the following are some solutions to the problem:

Ø Employ multiple assessments of student achievement so that learning is holistic.

Ø Ensure that the standardized tests being used are valid and culturally relevant for the populations of students being tested.

Ø Provide special accommodations such as allowing extra time for students with special needs.

Ø Allow students the freedom to choose which career path best suits them.

Ø Allow teachers to employ various teaching methods to accommodate learning for ALL students.

References

“Caribbean Examinations Council”. 2016. Caribbean Examinations Council. http://www.cxc.org/.

Ea, Prince. 2016. I Just Sued The School System!!. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8.

Dale, Roger, Geoff Esland, and Madeleine MacDonald. 1976. Schooling And Capitalism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul in association with the Open University Press.

Macionis, John J and Kenneth Plummer. 2008. Sociology. Harlow, England: Pearson Prentice Hall.

National Council of Teachers of English,. 2014. How Standardized Tests Shape — And Limit — Student Learning. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE The James R. Squire Office of Policy Research. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CC/0242-nov2014/CC0242PolicyStandardized.pdf.

Persaud, Navindra. 2016. “Education World: Why An Effective Problem Solving Curriculum Exceeds Standardized Testing”. Educationworld.Com. http://www.educationworld.com/a_news/why-encouraging-problem-solving-curriculum-exceeds-standardized-testing-1038965862.

Smith, M. G., Lambros Comitas, Philip Burnham, Jack Harewood, and Josep Llobera. 2008. Education And Society In The Creole Caribbean.

Trinidad and Tobago Newsday,. 2016. “Super Girls”. http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,234538.html.