Are examinations killing education?Are examinations killing education?

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Everyone has an opinion, so I'll throw mine in as a 17-year veteran of the public schools.  The emphasis on high stakes testing has been disastrous.  Not only does the test fail to adequately measure the full knowledge, capability and quality of a student, but it convinces that student that the purpose of his/her education is simply to pass the test.  It robs education of its creativity by artifically staking the curriculum to a strict set of criteria.  It robs the classroom of the educational time it takes to give the exam each year (about 5 days for our school).  Then the results of the test are too often used as the end all be all indication of the success or failure of the school and the teacher.  Some states pay teachers merit pay, or withhold it, based on student scores.  The belief in these high stakes tests, by people who are not educators (they're legislators), ignores the multiple societal factors that determine student success or failure.  It ignores the responsibility of family and society to aid in a student's education.  And it saps the morale of teachers in the classroom - educated, experienced, professional teachers who know more than anyone about how to teach their subject matter, and systematically drives good teachers from the profession. 

What's more, they're not committed to the testing.  As soon as the recession hit and budgets became tight, suddenly these all-important tests started flying out the window.  As teachers we now wait for the next trend/fad to come down the pike from the state so we can adjust our classroom teaching to meet that temporary "solution".

I couldn't be more against standardized, high stakes testing.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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No way.  Testing is a scapegoat, a red herring.  Sure, bad tests hurt eduction, but good tests achieve its goals.

Tests that pander to the lowest-levels of achievement (like many state standardized tests) are setting schools up to fail.  They hamstring districts into homogenizing students and instruction so that only basic skill levels are achieved.  Some teacher-made tests do this as well.  If a classroom teacher wants students to do well, an easy test is given (one that applies only to knowledge and comprehension levels of thinking).  In short, a bad test is a bad test, state or teacher-made.  What's worse is penalizing a school district for doing poorly on these tests.  It's setting schools up to fail and widening the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.  It makes real estate and gene pools a matter of priority instead of the good will of students.

There are good--nay great--standardized tests.  The AP curriculum tests are extremely challenging.  These tests set high standards, as they are closely aligned with both high school and college curricula.  The brightest minds in public education come together to make these tests.  They are mandates for improving instruction and helping in breaking down barriers between high schools and colleges.  Many classroom teachers can make similar tests, but it takes much prep time and planning with peers.

There are many other, worse things killing education--mostly political.  High schools are things of the past.  They need to change with today's society instead of the agrarian/Industrial Age-model of a century ago.  Most schools are too big and have bloated budgets; they are cities unto themselves that are being pulled in so many directions that education becomes a line item on an agenda.  Testing is way down on the list as a possible detractor.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since everyone else seems to be leaning toward "yes" I will go with the "no" side of the argument.

Here in the US, at least, I would argue that we say testing is ruining education because we don't know how to fix education and we need to blame it on something other than ourselves as teachers or society (in the form of bad parents and underprivileged kids).

Many teachers have gotten "fat and lazy."  Teachers can essentially not be fired so they don't have a stake in making sure every kid learns.  So they don't like being forced to make sure kids pass tests.

But most teachers are good and they care.  But they're weighed down by teaching kids whose parents haven't paid enough attention to them and have let them grow up in front of TVs.  Or by kids whose parents have so little education that they can't help their kids learn or pass on to them the message that learning is important.

We see the problems, but we blame the messenger (the test) rather than the real causes of the problems.

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The short answer is yes.


Examination in some form has almost always been a part of education, but the standardized, norm-referenced test is particularly dangerous because it allows a very small group of people to decide what kids or adults should be learning and how they ought to demonstrate that knowledge.  Standardized tests have myriad limitations in that they are almost without fail culturally biased, biased towards certain socio-economic groups, or administered in such a way that they have no bearing on real-world situations, knowledge or experience.


There are schools like the Sudbury Valley School that do not administer tests of any kind and one could argue that the "education" at their school (K-12) is incredibly successful.  Lots of people argue that it can't be because they don't measure it, but they do through interactions with the students and adults at the school and there is an enormous amount of "self-examination" happening as the students determine for themselves what areas they need to improve.

But in most schools, examinations are a fact of life, administered by their classroom teachers, by the state, or perhaps sometime soon by the federal government.  Using them as a tool to evaluate teachers or students is a very dangerous game fraught with politicization and all kinds of other nastiness, but using them to determine what areas you want to focus on, etc., is not without its merits.  These tests cannot be used to rank students or teachers, but if they are used to decide that a greater focus on a particular skill set is necessary or that a particular group of students or teachers or even administrators need to work on something, again they can have their merits.  The problem is that they are used almost exclusively to do the former rather than the latter.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is much in the educational discourse about the nature of high stakes standardized assessment.  There is a definite school of thought that argues placing such a high emphasis on test production and results does kill off the joy of learning.  On one level within this thought, the questions arise as to how students and teachers can enjoy any process of learning when so much of it is linked to success or failure on a test.  There is a strong desire to "teach to the test" solely and not engage in any intellectual exploration outside of this realm.  At the same time, if the exams are written by an external source, teachers lose much of their autonomy having to teach to an exam that they have not had a role in preparing.  At the same time, the stress caused on students who feel pressured to have to succeed on the assessment really removes much in the way of joy in the learning process.  This line of thought is highly persuasive examining how many students feel stressed to an unhealthy level during periods of high stakes standardized assessment.

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Like the previous editor said, researchers are indeed always debating.

I will add that what is really hurting education is that the data that these tests bring in is not being used to DIFFERENTIATE instruction, and instead is being used as a sole method of measurement to either open or shut down schools. What this is bringing with it is that teachers are teaching to the test, the test comes and goes, and so does the school.

What needs to happen is that whatever assessment tool we already have should be used to determine what our students NEED nor where our students are. For that, we would need a Pre/Post testing for quantitative correlations. Since that is hardly the case, it would be safe to argue that standardized testing is definitely not being used correctly and eventually will end up killing education as you say.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Experts are very divided over the issue of examination in education. Some educational professionals argue that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Perceived benefits are the raising of standards, the easy access to a guaranteed benchmark of excellence for employers and universities, and the raised aspirations and efforts of students when they know there is a test at the end of all their lessons. Classroom attendance in school is said to be better when students know that there is a challenge or a payoff in terms of an examination qualification at the end. other educationalists say that examinations cause stress that is a barrier to learning and that not all students learn the same way or have retentive minds for facts. They are better at coursework moderated through the year.

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Examinations are popular with the politicians who are responsible for funding education because exam results are easily measurable. It is easy for a legislator or other person to see numbers and draw conclusions from them, which may or not truly reflect that which the student has learned. The problem is, there is so much emphasis put on exams and exam scores that both teachers and students are the worse for it. Teachers find their success as educators measured by those results--note the recent nonsense of paying teachers by test scores without regard to the myriad other factors that can affect scores. Teachers are then inclined to teach ONLY to the exam, which deprives students of a well rounded education. Students also are constantly regaled with the importance of test results, and often suffer from test anxiety. There needs to be a more holistic method of measuring academic success than numbers on an exam which the teacher did not prepare. As an interesting side note, in my state, students must take an "end of course" test, and the teacher is not allowed to even see the questions before or after testing. Errors in the test are unaddressed, and both teacher and student are left to wonder.

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ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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I teach one class of Freshmen, and as our state tests the students in 8th grade, many of my kids are so bound to the 5-paragraph essay format that they're unable to break away from it.  Sometimes, at the beginning of the school year, I even get 5-paragraph essays when I ask for personal journal responses.  While I understand the theory behind standardized testing, it's such a shame that teachers feel such pressure that they need to teach to a test. 

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chimeric | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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I personally do not like examinations.

For one thing, if a teacher is able to get to know his or her students at all during a class year, it seems incomprehensible to me that this teacher needs an exam to know which students have or have not understood the material well enough to advance to the next level.

Another point against exams is a practice that I used to engage in. I used to get my roommates, who took different classes (often in widely diverse fields), to give me their exam questions. I didn't study for these exams, I didn't ask any questions about the material over which I would be tested--often the only thing I knew about the exam was the name of the course.

I rarely failed these exams and often did better on them than my friends who were taking the classes! I just know how to do well on tests.

When all is said and done, there seem to me to be two basic reasons for exams and exam scores:

1: To give the students something to refer to. Something concrete to look at and say, "Look, I'm doing better," or "Oh, I'm not doing so well."

2: To give people who either do not have the expertise required in the particular field to evaluate the examinee (such as HR workers) or those who do not have the time or opportunity to meet the examinee in person, such as state evaluators, some indication as to the merit of the examinee.

For these two reasons alone, I cannot see how our society can function without exams, but I wish we could figure something out!


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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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While I like having a snapshot picture of how our students are doing in a given year, I have a hard time with Illinois' use of the ACT as our measure of Adequate Yearly Progress for NCLB.   Even with score ranges to determine "success" the philosophy behind NCLB is that we can keep raising the bar, and all students will be able to make it over.  The problem I see is that the ACT test isn't designed with that in mind.  Given the incredible multitude of factors that affect student acheivement, it is not conceivable that eventually, all students will get a perfect score on the test.  While our school has worked diligently to align our curriculum and assessements to the College Readiness Standards as outlined by the ACT, this still doesn't account for the innumerable variables that are out of our control.  I agree with many of the previous posts that testing and accountibilty are valuable, but I hate that they sometimes become the end game of education.                                      

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shaketeach | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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One of the reasons I retired when I did was excessive testing.  In Florida, students from grades 3-10 are given the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Aptitude Test).  I would watch as students eyes rolled back in their heads at the mention of the dreaded FCAT. 

Eduation 101 teaches that no two students learn at the same rate or in the same way, thus a variety of "tests" to grade their learning.  These could be projects or group classwork or written assignments or multiple choice test, etc.

One size does not fit all, so tests like the FCAT tend to get rid of those students who do not fit the mold.  This adds to the drop out rate but the school's tests scores and grade look good.  Yes, schools are given a grade A-F on their FCAT scores.  Schools with high grades get a reward whereas a low score is punished.

Millions of dollars are spent on FCAT materials.  A student receives a workbook in each grade for each FCAT tested discipline.  Millions more are spent in grading the tests themselves.  In other words, instead of spending this money on teachers, smaller classes, etc., it is spent on making companies rich.

Testing has a place in education but the high stakes testing such as FCAT test only whether a student can pass a standaized test.  Students have been known to fail the FCAT but score 12,000+ on the SATs.  They can get into college but can't graduate from high school.

As Aristotle taught, all things in moderation. 

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flamingogirl | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Yes. In some ways, I hate to say that because I'm not against teachers being held accountable for teaching the appropriate curriculum. In my state, that's why end of grade testing was originally implemented. It was too easy for teachers to skim over (or just plain skip) parts of the curriculum that didn't interest them or that they didn't feel confident teaching. That said, however, NCLB has taken that to a horrible extreme. Teachers and schools are being judged entirely on test scores with no regard for other factors, such as individual growth and less tangible factors such as a child's socio-economic status, which often affects his/her learning environment at home. If the government wants to test students, those tests should look for individual student growth. I have no problem helping my students grow by one year or sometimes more. But if you give me a room full of students who are on a 3rd grade level, then it's unreasonable to expect those same children to pass a 5th-grade level test at the end of the year. By punishing schools and teachers who do not live up to these ridiculous standards, education is suffering. Schools have started spending less time on actual curriculum and more time on how to take the test. The children will suffer for it, and so will our nation's international standing.

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lynnetteholly | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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I think poverty is killing education.  If legislators focused as much time, money, effort,  and energy on ending poverty as they do debating about the uses of standardized tests we would be in much better place as a country.


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ktmagalia | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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I don't think any one factor can "kill" education,  but the pressure on teachers, students, as well as on administrators, for school improvement negatively impacts education.  Sure, examinations are a form of assessment, and as educators we need to be held accountable for what is learned in our classroom, but examinations are not the sole means of assessment. A student may enter my classroom at a third-grade reading level and leave at a fifth.  This particular student most likely will not pass the high school reading exam, but this student did improve and learn throughout the year. Was this student successful? Yes, but the examination will indicate that he or she was not. Killing education? Not fairly representing education? Yes.

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