Students are under more pressure than ever to perform, even though many are still struggling to close learning gaps brought on by the pandemic. With learning environments changing and educational technology advancing, there is a huge opportunity for teachers to be adaptive and innovative in their response to assessing student learning. However, many schools still utilize high-stakes standardized testing to evaluate student performance. From primary school all the way to graduation, it seems standardized testing is a pillar of the educational experience. While it may provide some data and insight into student performance, teachers should be cautious as the high stakes testing environment may be making a negative impact on students.
Standardized Testing Causes Stress Among Students
After a crazy few years, students are entering classrooms with their stress levels at an all-time high. Classrooms can often be a safe place for students to relieve stress. However, with the cultural emphasis placed on standardized testing, educators may be contributing to the increased stress levels of adolescents.
Harvard’s School of Education studied the effects of standardized testing on students’ well-being and found that standardized tests are a major source of stress for students. The report explains that students associate standardized testing with increased pressure and a potential for consequence if they don’t perform well (Simpson, 2016). High stakes testing creates an environment of stress and anxiety for students as they feel the need to succeed and make themselves, their teachers, and their families proud. Additionally, a separate study done at MIT showed that children displayed increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels during standardized tests. The same study recognized a trend that increased cortisol levels led to underperforming on tests (Heissel, 2021). With that being said, the stress spike students experience may skew test results negatively, leading to an inaccurate measure of students’ abilities.
Standardized Testing Stress can Create Negative Physical Symptoms
In addition to the psychological impact that standardized testing has on students, the stress brought on by testing may cause harmful physical impacts as well. Northcentral university’s School of Education studied the mental health effects of standardized tests on high school students in an English Language Learners program. The study found that many participants self-reported changes to their health habits around the time of standardized tests, such as appetite changes and disruptions in sleeping patterns (Booker De Carbo, 2021). As adults, we are able to identify that stress impacts our body in many ways such as the quality of our sleep and appetite. This research highlights that students have similar experiences, and that standardized testing can be a huge trigger for these adverse effects.
Standardized Testing Can Decrease Student Motivation
Teachers place a heavy emphasis on students’ achievement on standardized tests. Often times, this means that educators will use rewards as motivators to score high. Research has actually shown that the more teachers offer rewards such as treasure box, homework passes, class parties, or any other prize, the less intrinsic motivation students actually have (Amrein & Berliner, 2003). The holistic motivation to be an all-around great student starts to fade as the extrinsic motivators revolving around a specific reward become important. This research implies that testing culture may actually lead to overall decreased levels of student motivation.
Standardized Testing can Decrease Instructional Quality
A phrase often mentioned when discussing standardized testing is teaching to the test. Teaching to the test can be described as prioritizing content that will appear on a test over other content areas, as well as spending class time teaching testing strategies, question types, and other test-related lessons. A study done at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that the more time teachers spent on test preparation, the lower the actual quality of the instruction was (Blazar, 2017). As teachers dedicate class time to “teaching to the test”, students lose out on opportunities for engaging, enriching, and meaningful lessons.
Standardized Testing May Discriminate Against Low-Income Students
One of the most alarming findings around standardized testing is that it may discriminate against low-income students. Education Week released an article outlining some of the ways this is true (Kohn, 2000). For one, test questions on standardized test sometimes require background context or knowledge that lower-income students may not have. This inherently creates an edge for students with access to a plethora of life experiences. Additionally, many families hire tutors or sign up for classes that prepare their children for standardized tests. Whether its elementary state tests or the SAT, access to training that low-income families cannot afford gives affluent families an unfair advantage.
These are just some of the many harmful impacts that an emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing can have on students. While standardized tests can be valuable sources of data, it is incredibly important that teachers do not make them the center of students’ educational experience. Implementation of frequent, low-pressure informal assessments to constantly monitor student growth and progress is a much more accurate and student-friendly way to measure student achievement. It is easier than ever for educators to keep track of students’ growth through portfolios and formative assessments with the emergence of educational technology platforms like Graded+.
Graded+ allows educators to simply scan student work that is easily filed into a portfolio, with access to rubric grading and categorized portfolio folders. Through the use of apps like Graded+, educators can begin to step away from the culture of over-testing and begin to focus on growth, progress, and consistency of student work. To learn more about how Graded+ can positively impact your classroom, please visit https://www.solvedconsulting.com/graded.html.