The Problem With Standardized Tests

It’s that time of year again. If you are a parent or a teacher, the dreaded testing week is upon us. I fall into both of the above categories and I hate this whole testing thing as a mom and a teacher. This is my soapbox, so consider yourself warned.



Let’s Talk Circumstances

Most of my teaching career has been in at-risk classrooms. The students and their families have high poverty rates, high transiency rates and are learning English as a second language. Many are here illegally and have fears and traumas they are sorting through – the magnitude of which most of us have never experienced. Many don’t know where their next meal will come from on long weekends and holidays. In these cases, the fact that they are in school and making progress is pretty darn amazing. But they are. And the teachers in these schools are among the best I’ve ever worked with. You see, in these schools, with these students, a teacher cannot simply say “Turn to page 113 and read the first section” because they can’t read it … yet. You can’t have them go online at home and complete their iReady assignment – they don’t have computers or internet. But yet, the teachers roll up their sleeves and find ways to make learning concrete, memorable and fun. The kids learn in spite of their circumstances. But… these schools typically have low test scores and are labeled as failing schools. I don’t know about you, but when a child learns in the worst of circumstances, the teachers dig in and find ways to help them learn, and the staff as a whole works together to make sure the emotional, physical and developmental needs are met for each student so that they can learn, I call that a WINNING school. But… according to the standardized test scores, that is not how they will be viewed.


Now Let’s Dig Into Differentiation



I have also taught in more affluent schools. In these settings, the students have everything stacked in their favor. They have parents who provide for their needs, schools that have endless resources and a rockin’ PTA. They have access to tutors, learning experiences and clubs and opportunities to explore their varied interests. But guess what? No matter how privileged they are, they all learn differently. I have had students who are so incredibly bright, creative and interesting. But – you guessed it, they score average to below average on the standardized tests. These assessments only measure one type of thinking, on 1-2 given days, and yet make huge assumptions on each student based on their performance. For my creative, out-of-the box thinkers, good luck. My test anxiety kids, and the kids who have a headache on testing day, have a wiggly tooth, or had their feelings hurt by a classmate right before the test – good luck. The irony is, teachers are required to show differentiation in their teaching, however the tests are just, well, standard. 

So Let’s Put This in Perspective

If you are a parent or a teacher, you may feel like you have no control in these testing situations. And realistically, we have very little control over it. But, what you can control is how your child or student feels about testing. Reassure them of their strengths. Remind them that these tests only measure a tiny part of them and let them know that you see their efforts, their progress and their value, no matter what they score on their tests. Love them unconditionally and allow them to blossom in their own time and in their own way – they all do eventually, and their self-esteem is far more valuable than a silly test score that will mean absolutely nothing in 20 years.

End of my soapbox.

Go hug your student, child. Their smile is where you’ll find the real magic.


10 thoughts on “The Problem With Standardized Tests”

  1. So True!!! During this time as a Mom I always was stressed too. 🙁 I cannot imagine how the children felt. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I homeschool my kids but this year my oldest has to take the tests because of the online program we are in. I totally agree with you and have not put any pressure on him. These tests are such a bad way to gauge success and learning. Great post!

    • Thanks Andrea. We homeschooled for a while when my daughter’s gymnastics was at it’s peak. It’s certainly a more relaxed (and very productive) atmosphere. If they have to test, I think the homeschooled kids have a good approach to keeping it in perspective.

  3. Leslie, you are an AMAZING teacher!

    I home educated my kids, but if they had needed to go to traditional school during those years, I would have wanted them to have a teacher just like you!

    Home education set them on a course of success for when they went to college. There they had incredible teachers and already had a confident frame of reference for test taking.

    It’s difficult for certain! I’m so glad there are teachers like you still in the school system.

    • Rita, that is wonderful! Homeschool offers not only a great education with unique experiences, but it also allows students to grow and develop in their time, setting them up for success not only academically, but also confidently. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. I have always had learning disabilities (of course that I didn’t learn about until I was WELL out of grade school)…. and standardize testing absolutely broke my spirit.

    I was always a good student. I payed attention, took notes, studied, read thoroughly and I would still end up at the back of the pack.

    Most teachers would get frustrated with me “If you’d just apply yourself”…..or ‘Don’t you study at home?”

    My favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Sewell, spoke to my inner student in a way that no other teacher has in my life. She is the reason I love writing and learning in different ways.

    She said ‘There’s not a written test in this world that will tell you if you are a good person, a smart person or a contribution to society’. I always carried that with me…. knowing that even if I wasn’t good at tests and written exams…. I always wanted to be a good, smart person that tried to be a contribution to society.

    Teachers like you make allllll the difference in the world, Leslie!

    • Well Morgan, Mrs. Sewell was right! And those qualities she saw in you, are the same qualities teachers see in some of the “low performing” students. They however, are not low performers, they are just DIFFERENT performers. And the different performers do the most interesting things! Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Einstein – his teacher literally gave up on him and wrote his mom a letter saying he would never be able to learn). So you my dear, are in a pretty elite group of people!

  5. As a parent to a gifted child, the tests did open some new doors for my daughter 🙂 I remember when she was in grade 6 and they called me in for a meeting with the school board to tell me my daughter scored in the 99 percentile!! As a young and single mother you could imagine how proud I was! I chose to keep her in her regular school program though.
    Growing up, my brother and I were both deemed gifted students through standardized testing and it had very negative affects on my brother. He was picked on and became very introverted and the program excluded him from regular class! I opted not to take part in the program because of it.
    The education system needs some work for the students who are deemed ‘gifted’ through these tests. Or maybe it is different today, but back when I was growing up and where I’m from the gifted kids were separated a few days a week and sent to another school with the other gifted kids.

    • It is not an easy problem for sure. However I have found that the best methods of teaching the gifted are also the best methods for the lowest of students. That is a powerful piece of information to have because it could turn the “typical” ways of teaching upside down. Not a bad thing in my opinion. Let them all learn together by getting creative and allowing everyone’s light to shine.

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