Debate Club is a column that pits writers head-to-head on questions that matter to students. Though it lacks the shaky knees and microphone feedback screeches that typically accompany any oratory competition, rest assured that Debate Club is not for the faint of heart.
Resolution: “Be it resolved that standardized tests are good.”
In favour: Sam Routley (SR)
Opposed: Shailee Koranne (SK)
SR: Standardized testing provides a great deal of effectiveness and accountability to the education system. By using a fixed set of criteria, educators can best review the strengths and weaknesses of student performance, properly indicating the areas that need work.
By giving them all the same test — as opposed to more subjective evaluations — all students in a given jurisdiction are put on the same level, regardless of their differences, and thus treated equally in the eyes of the educational establishment. According to cognitive psychologists Aaron Benjamin and Hal Pashler, standardized tests have been found to improve memory and retention and increase inferential ability; consequently, these tests are excellent for overall learning.
SK: I disagree with the notion that students can benefit from standardized testing, especially in its common form: the dreaded two-hour Scantron test. While I am not advocating for the total eradication of such testing, I am opposed to it being the only option for students at any level — especially when it is what determines most of their final grade.
Other forms of testing, such as creative projects and essays, should be implemented in order to truly test students’ absorption of curriculum material.
By encouraging students to use skills and resources beyond the memorization commonly required for standardized tests, evaluations more accurately reflect real-world assignments. Students should be given the option to choose between showcasing what they’ve learned through several different avenues, not just a standardized test.
SR: Some disciplines, such as the arts, can utilize alternative assessment methods. However, several others — particularly science and mathematics, which deal more with concrete concepts than abstract or subjective analysis — require standardized testing. Success in these fields requires the same memorization and on-the-spot application that standardized tests reflect.
For instance, ER doctors are required to recall their knowledge in medicine and apply it to a situation they may have never encountered. Nothing simulates these situations better than tests.
If one’s education were to be based on subjective evaluations, its value would be inconsistent and likely inaccurate — more subjective assessments are based on varying criteria that is valued differently depending on the instructor.
SK: Standardized tests are prepared in a way that leads many students to fail. For example, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the companies that create standardized tests are for-profit businesses and purposely leave out questions that students are more likely to perform well on in order to preserve score variance. Furthermore, these tests have become the model for who is smart and who isn’t, even though they are inaccessible to some.
Standardized testing marginalizes students with learning or developmental disabilities who cannot adapt as easily to their requirements, as well as students of lower socioeconomic status who cannot afford to pay for preposterously expensive tests and prep classes.
In Canada, the GRE and LSAT both cost over $150 for each time the test is taken. Other exams, such as one of several that must be taken to be a certified dentist in Canada, cost upwards of $1,000. Standardized testing has also always been skewed to disadvantage people of colour; for this reason, recent outrage has taken place over tests like the Louisiana Literacy Test, administered in the 1960s.
As highlighted by the Huffington Post, the material these tests contain is often only relatable to richer white students, which is cause for concern with respect to fairness and accuracy.
SR: With that said, on a national level, standardized testing can identify the educational dynamics of different ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic categories. For instance, standardized testing has helped to indicate the predominant educational disadvantages faced by African-American communities.
SK: Yet after locating areas of weakness, tests don’t do anything except discriminate further. For example, in 2013, the Chicago Public School Board announced that it was considering closing some schools — the majority of the preliminary list was made up of schools attended by mostly Latinx and African-American students because test scores helped determine what schools would close.
There are always alternative options to standardized tests, such as reports, research, and papers, all of which can evaluate much more than a student’s retention capability. In elementary, middle, and high schools, occasional in-class inspections held by government inspectors can assess a classroom’s overall performance.
Considering these options, eliminating standardized testing is possible. Scotland, for instance, has no government-mandated standardized tests — its national education policy places emphasis on having a variety of educational assessments, and government inspections of schools have been in place since 1833. Students come from different backgrounds, and the idea that we can continue to test them all in the same way is misguided.
Want more Debate Club in your life? Swing by our office this Friday to watch a live debate between two of our columnists. The question: should voting be mandatory?
RSVP to our event page here.