Standardized Testing in US Schools

Standardized testing is a dominant force in public schools in the United States, and has become an essential method of measuring performances of both students and teachers in public schools. (Toch, 2006). Apart from public schools, standardized testing is being used to determine the admission of both graduate and postgraduate prospective students in almost all American universities.

There are different types of standardized testing. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is used to measure reasoning, analytical writing skills of graduate students.

TOEFL test is to measure the non-native English speakers’ ability to communicate in English in the colleges and universities.

SAT reasoning test measures students’ readiness for entry-level in college and university. Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) evaluates students’ ability to perform the task in the MBA study. (Education Testing Service, 2009).

Measurement of the students’ performances in schools has been the center of controversies in the last few decades for education evaluation. While standardized testing has been used in most countries as the means of testing students’ performances. Nevertheless, debate has aroused on the effectiveness of standardized testing as an acceptable tool to measure the performance of pupils, students, as well as teachers in the schools. Why do some scholars support the efficacy of standardized testing in measuring the student’s performance, other scholars have opposed the view that standardized testing cannot be used to measure the level of student performances in the school due to its lack of efficacy. (Hanson & Schutz, 2009).

The mounting evidence surrounding the ineffectiveness of standardized testing has led to the mounting pressures among the scholars that there is need for more established standard for measuring the performances of both students and teachers in public schools. While policymakers began to provide more solution that is critical to inadequacy of standardized testing which holds local educator responsible if the students fell short of required standard. (Toch, 2006).

Interestingly, despite debate surrounding the standardized testing, records have shown that standardized testing is still a phenomenon in the education in USA, and virtually all the present notable scholars in almost every field had their training through the standardized achievement test. (Lennon, 1955).

This paper reviews the literature that evaluates the effectiveness of standardized testing techniques for measuring students’ performance in schools and teachers’ ability to impact knowledge on students.

Evaluation of standardized testing

Graham and Neu (2004) offer a comprehensive definition of standardized testing, as the methods of administering and uniformed scored. Standardized test includes norm-referenced test, which can be compared to the results of normal distribution in a population. In addition, criterion references test, which the students’ results can be compared to specified performance level, and norm-referenced tests are used to evaluate students with specific needs, and in the USA, the use of standardized tests has been in large-scale commercialization in the testing industry, (Cameron, & Dean, 2004).

Schools have adopted measures in universities and US colleges for prospective students of both undergraduate and graduate studies to take one or more standardized tests before being granted admissions. (International, 2009).

Theories have been formulated based on standardized testing. Williams (1978) analyzed how the standardized testing is based on developmental theory. The concept of cognitive development is based on standardized testing. Thus, qualitative intra- individual changes require constructing individual tests. Based on developmental theory, standardized testing provides qualitative changes on individuals. Various variables of developmental theory can be applied to development of competencies developed from schools (Gray, 1978).

Development theory provided by Williams has related linkages with intelligent theory described by Plucker (2001). From the Plucker’s perspective, the intelligent theory has been used to demonstrate intelligence and ability of an individual. Thus, in identifying an intelligence and ability of an individual, the standardized testing can be used to probe an ability of an individual to do a specific task. The major basic reason for conducting standardized testing for students and teachers as well as to know whether an individual has sufficient intelligence to handle the specific tasks. It should be noted that intelligence theory influences the methods of identifying and assessing students Intelligent.

This is the reason why theory of intelligence has enjoyed widespread application since its inception especially in the educational circle, and has been widely applied in the educational sector.( Machek , 2003).

Despite the general agreement that standardized testing is to evaluate educational standard of students in the schools. Debates have aroused among scholars whether standardized testing can accurately measure basic skills in educational programs in USA.

Divisions among scholars are based on whether standardized testing has any value in measuring the skills and intelligence of an individual in the US schools. While some scholars believe that standardized testing is valuable in assessing the standard of students and teachers in an educational sector, other group scholars argue that standardized testing has lost its value. To evaluate the student’s or teachers’ skills, standardized testing has become obsolete in achieving these tasks.

Arguments provided by Kenneth (1990) revealed that standardized testing has lost its value in the last few decades especially in the colleges for the underprivileged people. In most schools, testing has been used to deny some groups of people to have access to college. The writer further argues that standardized testing does not contain any ethical, racial and sexually biased materials. The writer suggests that if there is going to be a standardized test whatsoever to measure the performances of prospective students, this kind of test must not contain any racial, ethical, and sexually biased materials. (Kenneth, 1990)

Some scholars believe that Kenneth and Plucker arguments lack sufficient proof. This is because most top universities in USA are still using standardized testing for their admission procedures.

Espejo (2008) provides similar argument provided by Kenneth which revealed ineffectiveness of standardized testing. The Higher Education using the standardized testing to evaluate the performance of students in the colleges and universities in the United States is rather disturbing the postsecondary institutions. The writer suggests that instead of standardized testing, the students will be better prepared to improve in the curriculum that is practical oriented, which will prepare students to global workplace of 21st century instead of putting bulk of students assessment through standardized test.(Espejo, 2008).

According to Espejo, the main objectives of creating standardized testing are to discriminate against minorities. From survey conducted in 2003 in the United States, it is revealed that standardized testing is to discriminate against Black American and Hispanic minorities. It should be noted that standardized testing ignores interest’s individual students and promote competition and anxiety not useful to the educational development of the students. The writer further points out that standardized testing goes against exploration and imagination, which tend to ignore their abilities and attributes. (Espejo, 2008).

Graham and Neu (2004) offer slightly similar argument against standardized testing by declaring that standardized test has declined in measuring educational standard. As is pointed out, the purpose of testing is not universally agreed upon by government members, teachers, and school authorities in the United States. The author provides suggests that the gradual shift towards acceptance of standardized testing by professionals and the public would lead the school system into healthy competition. (Cameron, & Dean, 2004),

Although, Graham and Neu may be right. However, TOEFL is still acceptable in almost all colleges and universities in USA and this is being used to evaluate students’ ability to understand what he will be taught in school.

Angrist, Guryan (2005), arguments against standardized testing is based on tests conducted on teacher. According to them, Board of Education policy to conduct tests for teachers before being employed to work in public schools is not a right policy. Although, it may be view by other scholars that this is to raise teacher’s quality through strict provision of certification. However, these policies have been at the center of criticisms because it has been revealed that these policies may serve as barriers for the teachers that cannot afford to obtain the teacher testing form. The authors point out that the requirements are very ambiguous because there are some qualified and brilliant teachers that may lack funds to obtain forms and this may disqualify applicants that would have been hired by schools. While test requirements may be set to achieve minimum requirement standards, nevertheless certification requirements may deter high quality applicants to teach in public schools. (Angrist, Guryan, 2005).

Toch (2004) argument against standardised testing is based on the recent occurrence where the tests conducted in schools did not measure the performances of the students. For example, the independent tests conducted for students for scholarship by test industry revealed that students performed excellently better than test conducted for entry-level students. This revealed the scoring errors that have jeopardized the reputability of the standardized testing. Toch provides the reasons for this shortcoming, this include shortage of testing experts, insufficient states ‘resources, tight regulatory deadlines. Thus, conducting test does not fully measure student and school performance. (Toch, 2004).

Despite lots of criticism centered on standardized testing some group of scholars still, believe that standardized test is an effective tool in measuring the student capability.

Mowat (2008) argues that standardized testing such as GRE has been known to be a valuable indicator to evaluate the kind of skills in the graduate study. The GRE is to test the ability of students seeking admission to graduate studies to acquire new knowledge. The writers point out that there are extensive studies that reveal that the standardized tests could be used to predict the performance of a graduate professional student in the university. (Mowat, 2008).

Hanson and Schutz (1986) arguments on the standardized testing correspond the argument put forward by Mowat. In addition, he conducted series of tests and research on primary schools pupils in USA before publishing his findings. According to him, from the test conducted for pupils in primary schools, it was revealed that the pupils in the primary schools showed what they were taught in the school and the basic methods to evaluate what they learn is to conduct standardized test. Although, the writer points out that standard test reflect what the pupils learn, however care must be taken to choose the valid type of standardized test in order to measure the pupil’s performance. (Hanson, Schutz, 2009 )

The reliability of standardized test revealed that tests are equivalent to measure the types of instruction the pupils are receiving. (Hanson, Schutz, 2009 )

Krajewski and Albrecht (1982) provide the rationality for conducting standardized test, because it provides an easy cost effective method to obtain information on how to make decisions on placements, grades and career success. It should be noted that several top universities such as Harvard use increasing levels of standardized tests in making decisions on the admission of prospective students. The tests are used to measure what the students were taught in the schools (Krajewski, Albrecht, 1982)

Based on the arguments provided, several authors may believe that standardized testing has gradually lost its value. Nevertheless, public opinion still supports that standardized testing is an effective tool to measure students’ performance.


Evidence has revealed that standardized testing has some shortcomings. However, standardized testing is still an effective method of evaluating the performances of teachers and students’ readiness for schools. It should be noted that assessment is essential for accountability and the key to today’s education is accountability towards academic progress. To monitor students progress, assessments through standardized testing still remain the only option left for states to measure student’s performance and progress. (Mitchell, 2006).

The simple analogy to this is that people are measured in all occupations. To evaluate that students grasp what is being taught in the schools, they have to pass through test before qualified. By eradicating the standardized tests, is like teaching students not to study. (American Debate, 2005).

However by ensuring that standardized testing recovers its old glory, all states in US should improve on the methods standardized testing is taking. They should employ qualified educational evaluators in the Education board.

In addition, records have revealed that most public and private schools are short of qualified teachers in the United States. It has been revealed that there are acute shortages of science and language teachers in most public schools in the United States. Government should recruit more foreign qualified teachers from other countries. For example, there are many qualified teachers in India, Nigeria and other countries that can fill the vacant teaching positions in most public schools in the United States. If there are adequate teachers in schools, records of dropout, and failing standardized test will be dropped. American Debate, (2005).


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Espejo, R, (2008), Minorities Support Standardized Testing, Greenhaven Press.

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International, (2008), Study in the USA – Standardized Tests Overview, Envisage International Corporation.

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Lennon, G, T,(1955), Standardized Testing, NASSP Bulletin, Vol. 39, No. 211, 34-40.

Machek , G, (2003), The Role of Standardized Intelligence Measures in Testing for Giftedness, Human Intelligence, Indiana University.

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Toch, Thomas (2006), Margin of Error: The Education Testing Industry in the No Child Left Behind; Education Sector Report.

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