Do Standardized Tests Boost Student Performance? Middle School Students Respond

Once the dust settled after the last surge of standardized testing for the year,students, teachers, and administrators finally got another chance to exhale. Prompted by my own curiosity of how students view education, I posed this question to my students in the form of a journal entry: “Does knowing that you have to take a big test at the end of the year encourage you perform better in class? Why or why not”

Now, I posed this question because I believe that in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle of yearly testing, we’ve lost sight of the fact that actual learning is a three-tiered responsibility pyramid, with a good teacher occupying the top and smallest tier. The next level of responsibility lies with the parent, but the bulk and foundation of the learning pyramid lies with the student in a forgotten area called “personal responsibility.” The standardized testing craze was perpetuated by an assumption that our school systems were flooded with teachers that neither taught nor cared about students, and even I’ll admit that in some cases this was true. However, with the changes in accountability policies that have steadily increased over the last 12 years it is impossible for a teacher to remain in the classroom for any period of time if they do not take the profession or student success seriously. Imagine, if you were only in the classroom to collect a paycheck, how long would you put up with discipline issues, formal and informal observations, test administration, student learning targets, and time outside of work devoted to lesson preparation before you decided that you could find a easier way to earn a paycheck?

So let’s assume that most teachers teach because they are subject matter experts and they actually do care about kids. What happens to a child when he leaves the school? For most of us, we concentrate best when we are in a stable and secure environment. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this blog in the quiet comfort of my home. If there were people arguing or fighting in the background, steadily walking in and out, or engaging in illegal activity nearby you best believe that focusing on writing a blog would be among the least of my concerns. Yet, we have children in our schools that are expected to practice a skill at home under these conditions. It is the parent’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for their children that is conducive to learning and psychological development. Without this leg, the “stool” of learning is unstable.

Lastly, the individual student is the ultimate decider of whether or not learning takes place. Ironically, testing has an adverse effect on learning because after testing is over, from some students’ perspective learning is over. Incidentally every effort made throughout the year is only directed towards a test, not to foster life long learners. As I stated before, I gave my students a writing topic to respond to as candidly as they could. The nature of the responses vary from students who struggle with discipline and those who are self motivated:

“Kind of because I will play (in class) at the beginning of the year and do good going to the end (of the year).”

“I don’t think testing changes the way a person acts, they have to change themselves. I think testing makes a person nervous because there are so many questions.”

“No because you have to wake up in the morning and prepare to take that test, and after the test they try to make us do work. That’s too much pressure on us kids.”

“No because most people come to school for their friends or to bully somebody. Some kids come to school just to get away from the house.”

“No because the test is big, but it’s really not a big deal because we pass by our grades.”

“Yes it does encourage me because I don’t want to fail the test, so I will try my best not to associate with my friends so I can pass the seventh grade.”

“Why wouldn’t it? You need to do good to get into a good high school.”

Yes, it encourages me to be better and to test myself on my skills.” 

“No because the test really doesn’t depend on your behavior.”

And the list goes on…

The truth is that legislators and board members see big, standardized tests as a way to determine if teachers are worthy of their paychecks and if students are benefiting from the system. Ironically since teachers have been trained to see “the test” as the determining factor of their employment, students have been trained to see the test as the sole purpose of learning.

The trickle down effect at its worst.

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