Standardized Testing–Should it define our children?

In order to apply for this program, we need a copy of her birth certificate, a copy of her social security card, a copy of her vaccination record and her most recent standardized test scores.

There are many things in our lives that can affect the way we define ourselves and determine our future—appearance, life experience, family, friends, environment, success, failure, social skills, emotions—but standardized test scores should not be one of these things.

For most of us, there are a few vital and fundamental life documents that follow us through our lives: our birth certificates, our social security or social insurance cards, and as children, our vaccination records. These are carefully protected and securely filed away for safekeeping, making sure they are never to be lost. These records and documents are critical to proving our identity. You will need these life documents to apply for a secondary level of vital documents such as a driver’s license, a passport and school ID cards.  These life documents are also needed to register our children for school. They possess definitive and accurate information about us.

When did standardized test scores become one of these life documents?

When did we come to attribute so much significance, trust and responsibility to the test scores derived from a single test, especially when taking into account the number of common variables that could affect the score and its validity?

Standardized tests are not infallible.

As a former public school teacher, I have administered my share of standardized tests. I know first-hand the different possible variables that can occur with the test itself, the test taker or the test administrator, and these variables can assuredly impact the validity of test scores and provide an inaccurate portrayal of a student’s ability and achievement.


  • The child was not feeling well on test day.
  • The teacher/proctor was not administering the test properly or clearly and directions were misunderstood.
  • The child has an undiagnosed learning difference.
  • The child may suffer from stress due to the timed conditions of the test.
  • The child becomes bored and loses his desire to do well.
  • The child has successfully mastered test-taking strategies which can boost his test scores, as well as the opposite, a student who lacks test-taking strategies can receive a lower score–neither producing test results truly indicative of what the child knows.
  • The child is suffering from being over-anxious about the test—test-taking anxiety.

According to Jasmine Evans in her article Problems with Standardized Testing (November 4, 2013), “Test anxiety became such a serious issue that in 2002, California state tests included instructions for teachers on what to do if a student vomits on the test.” She also explained, ”In this way, the pressure placed on students to perform well ends up impeding the very thing standardized tests are designed to assess: how much students know.”


  • The cultural biases inherent in many tests.
  • Is the test assessing what was taught?
  • Standardized tests are objective tests which do not measure other areas of potential and academic achievement such as creativity, determination, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, leadership skills.
  • The multiple choice questions allow the test-taker to figure out the correct response when he doesn’t know the right answer by using deductive reasoning (this test-taking skill of how to determine the best response for an answer the student does not know is taught in test prep classes).
  • Computer or human errors when scoring tests.
  • Tests with mistakes – typos, misspellings, wrong answers.


  • The proctor/test administrator may feel pressure to make sure all of the students do their best.
  • The proctor/teacher may be administering a test with the stress of knowing that she/he will be evaluated by the performance of her students and this may impact her job.
  •  The test administrator is improperly trained or prepared.

These variables can make only slight changes to test results or they can make a significant impact–either way, test results that are expected to reflect what a child knows or the academic progress he has made are not always accurate.  Yet, we often take one test score from one test and base a significant amount of a child’s future on possibly-inaccurate numbers that may or may not tell the whole academic story for that child.

We ascribe many crucial conclusions from one test score, yet in science, it takes numerous variable-controlled trials, experiments and research studies to affirm just one conclusion.

When administering standardized achievement tests to Kindergarteners, I witnessed these less-than-optimal test-taking variables. With one particular test administration, just after the first fifteen minutes of penciling in bubbles, many of these young students had lost interest in trying to do well on the test. I found a few students just going down the answer page, penciling in random bubbles, just wanting to be finished with the tedious task. I even had one creative student who happily penciled in specific bubbles on his answer sheet to create a pretty pattern, sort of a connect-the-dots. As a test administrator, one can only do so much to encourage and cajole and coerce these anxious, bored or less-than-conscientious children to want to do their best.

As an adult, how galvanized would you be at the prospect of sitting for long periods of time, for two or three days in a row, under sterile conditions (no talking, keeping your eyes on your own paper, listening carefully for directions) and then still be able to meticulously pencil in bubble after bubble with that one correct answer, all the while knowing that this test could change your future, or your teacher’s and school’s future? No pressure there.

When I administered standardized tests, it was before these tests were used to evaluate teachers or schools or garner a share of government money.  Nope, at that time, these tests were simply one of several assessment tools employed to help both the teacher and the parent get a glimpse of the achievement level, learning needs and the areas of weakness of the child.  I believe this was as it should have been.

Fast forward to today. In any given school district, school or classroom, more than one standardized test is given during a single school year. And too many of these tests are not being used to evaluate the student. Yes, it is the student’s test scores, but his scores can be used to evaluate teacher performance and school progress. These scores are also used to determine whether or not a student will graduate or move on to the next grade level. All of these are very crucial calls which seem to be resting on the shoulders of a single test score.

These are Questions We Need to ask Ourselves about Standardized Testing

  • Should test scores be treated as a document as permanent and defining as a birth certificate, a Social Security/Social Insurance card, and a vaccination record?
  • Are we making a mistake relying so heavily on a test score for student grade placement, teacher evaluation, school performance, acceptance into a specific program or college, and educational funding?
  • Are the test scores an accurate assessment of aptitude, capability, potential, determination and future success?
  • What do these tests actually assess? knowledge? critical thinking skills? creativity? problem-solving? abstract thinking?
  • What are the possible effects from the level of use of standardized tests in schools today? From test-taking anxiety, to the stress of too many high-stakes tests, and even to the mistaken placement or rejection of a student into a specific program?
  • What is the information inferred from these test scores used for and is it absolutely necessary for our children’s education?
  • Are these tests completely reliable and accurate enough to be able to determine a child’s entire future on one test score?

We need to ask ourselves as parents, educators and those who influence educational decisions, do we really want standardized test scores to define our children and dictate their future?


Standardized Tests are Weakening our Democracy by Richard Kahlenberg

The Problem With Standardized Tests  (U.S. News and World Report) by Scott Barry Kaufman

Problems With Standardized Testing by Jasmine Evans

The complete list of problems with high-stakes standardized tests by Valerie Strauss and Marion Brady

Do Standardized Tests Show an Accurate View of Students’ Abilities? by Concordia Online

Standardized Testing Fails the Exam by W. James Popham for Edutopia

Measuring What Matters Least by Jonathan Pollard

What’s Wrong with Standardized Tests?

Study: High Standardized Test Scores Don’t Translate to Better Cognition by Allie Tidwell


This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum’s response to the impending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which will likely ensure the current level of use of standardized testing in the U. S.  Follow the link below to read the other posts on standardized testing and look for our tweets on Twitter using the hashtag #lesstests .

Rapid Response

10 Comments on “Standardized Testing–Should it define our children?

  1. Thanks for your well-written and thoughtful article. I hadn’t thought of that angle–that test scores are trying to creep up the “defining documents” status. Scary!

  2. Well written Celi! Very informative!

    “Test anxiety became such a serious issue that in 2002, California state tests included instructions for teachers on what to do if a student vomits on the test.” <<< And wow, just wow…this made me pause and sit back for a second. At what lengths will we go for so called, "quality education"? This is quality?… Why does the pressure have to be this much?

  3. Well done, Celi! As a school psych, I also witnessed less than desirable testing scenarios. Thankfully I could choose another day, space it out over many days, and also qualify it in a written evaluation which included such things as observation, interview, history, and review of records. A score is nothing without everything else. And there is absolutely no reason to test as much as we do.

    I especially loved this from your post:
    Yet, we often take one test score from one test and base a significant amount of a child’s future on possibly-inaccurate numbers that may or may not tell the whole academic story for that child.
    We ascribe many crucial conclusions from one test score, yet in science, it takes numerous variable-controlled trials, experiments and research studies to affirm just one conclusion.

  4. I was once at a school in Ohio and I asked one of the students what they wanted to do when they graduated. Instead of hearing, “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be a journalist” I got the answer, “It depends on my SAT score.” Being form Canada I couldn’t quite believe what they’d told me.

    When you mentioned cultural bias I couldn’t help but remember the movie “Stand and Deliver”. The kids did so well on the calculus test that the scorers thought that the students had cheated, so they had to do a new test. If I remember correctly the scores were even higher.

    I think measurements can be useful if carefully constructed. I worked for a company that used a “Overall Performance Index” but how it was calculated depended on which department you worked in because every department had different benchmark goals. What I disagreed with as a supervisor was part of my evaluation that depended on the opinion of my team members because factors out of my control could impact how I was evaluated. E.G. if I reprimanded someone the day of or before the survey I’m likely to be negatively impacted. Where as if I managed to get a day off for someone or a pay increase they are likely to view me more favorably.

    I’ll stop rambling but I agree, Standardized Testing can be a convenient crutch to make sure no one’s feels are hurt.

    • Thank you, Douglas, I always enjoy your thoughtful comments and really appreciate your input.

      We lived in Ontario for 4 years and my sons were tested in school every two years. When we pulled our youngest out of public school here in the U. S., he was being tested six times a year.

      Thanks again!

  5. So true!

    I was a kid who excelled at test taking… And I knew it wasn’t fair. I always felt like I was cheating somehow, like I’d snuck into a place I didn’t belong, because I was not only gifted, I tested very well. Even if I didn’t know something, I could puzzle it out for the test. I did great on placement tests too, which meant I then had to struggle to continue to do well on tests in a class I didn’t understand. I still kept my straight A’s but aside from a few outside interests of my own, it wasn’t until I was an adult and no longer part of the testing culture that I actually started learning.

    It’s because of our experiences in school that we are homeschooling our kids (who are doubtless gifted like my husband and I though we have chosen to not have them tested). My husband was the classic underachiever… Every report card since kindergarten says, “Not working to potential.” And I had the opposite problem: I was so focused on continuing that string of high scores that I didn’t reap all the benefits of a good education.

    • Robin, oh boy, sounds like a story I’ve heard before 😉 I was also the good test taker and I always claim that I didn’t learn anything until I went to graduate school 14 years after graduating college. Thanks for adding your thoughts about testing!

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