Getting On My Soapbox: Standardized Testing

I recently read Annie Murphy Paul’s article in Time titled Relax, It’s Only a Test. Below is the comment I posted on her blog citing the same article.

Thank you for writing about this topic Annie. I have shared your posts often with my educator colleagues.

As I read, some questions came to mind:
– Why are we administering exams that create anxiety in the first place? Do the benefits outweigh the effects? Who benefits?
– How much learning time is lost with the addition of these interventions to reduce anxiety? (Learning time is already reduced due to standardized tests.)
– Even if we can mitigate the anxiety created by these tests, are we getting a truly valid and reliable measure of what our students know and are able to do?
– A multitude of studies show a positive correlation with formative assessment and improved student learning (see: McTighe, Wiggins, Guskey, Fisher, Wiliams, Marzano). What would happen if the 1.6 billion dollars were reallocated toward using formative assessment as our preferred method of measuring student learning?
– How might these distant, standardized tests negatively affect relationships and trust between the teacher and their students?

I know that this is not the focus of what you wrote and I don’t expect you or anyone to change the current testing climate any time soon. I am just curious about your broader perspective regarding high stakes testing as a whole.

When I hear about how we can help our students better manage their anxiety in response to high stakes testing, I believe we miss a more important point: Why are we doing this in the first place?

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

2 thoughts on “Getting On My Soapbox: Standardized Testing”

  1. I like your formative assessment point: What if the money and time each school devoted to planning, giving, tabulating, and sharing high stakes tests was given to teams of teachers in each school to develop authentic, vibrant, and rigorous formative leading to summative assessments that were scaffolded and diverse? And then, hey, instead of hiring consultants and programs, we would invest that time and money into debriefing on those assessments, sharing expertise and learning from each other. Wow. Just think how that might work.


  2. I love following your posts and hearing your thoughts, especially pertaining to reading. I just finished a session of my assessment class yesterday for my 316 and we had a very similar discussion about all the time and energy, didn’t even get to the money issue, put into summative and benchmark testing when formative tests are most beneficial to students and teachers. Why is it that so much planning, class time and money is put into the assessment area that really benefits students the least? The obvious answer is the the nice numbers and great charts that are so easily created from these forms of assessment, everyone wants numbers and that is the easiest way to get them.
    -Such a sad reality for our students.


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