It’s wonderful to see all the protests around the country against standardized testing.  At Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, teachers are refusing to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  In Texas, hundreds of school districts have passed a resolution saying standardized tests  are ”strangling” public schools.  The National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, which calls on government officials to reduce standardized testing in our schools, has been endorsed by hundreds of organizations, and over 13,000 individuals.  And yet, in spite of all this, standardized testing still is putting a wicked half-Nelson on our students’ curiosity, creativity, and passion for learning in tens of thousands of classrooms around the country.   Just in case you are in a position as an educator to influence public policy on this issue, here is a list of 15 reasons why standardized tests are worthless, utterly worthless!

1. Because students know that test scores may affect their future lives, they do whatever they can to pass them, including cheating and taking performance drugs (e.g. psychostimulants like Ritalin “borrowed” from their friends).

2. Because teachers know that test scores may affect their salaries and job security, they also cheat (see the best-seller Freakonomics for some interesting statistics on this).

3. Standardized tests don’t provide any feedback on how to perform better.  The results aren’t even given back to the teachers and students until months later, and there are no instructions provided  by test companies on how to improve these test scores.

4. Standardized tests don’t value creativity.  A student who writes a more creative answer in the margins of such a test, doesn’t realize that a human being won’t even see this creative response; that machines grade these tests, and a creative response that doesn’t follow the format is a wrong response.

5. Standardized tests don’t value diversity.  There are a wide range of differences in the people who take standardized tests:  they have different cultural backgrounds, different levels of proficiency in the English language, different learning and thinking styles, different family backgrounds, different past experiences.  And yet the standardized test treats them as if they were all identical; identical to the group that took the test several years ago, and to which the test has been “normed” (e.g. this original group is the “norm group” against which any future test-takers are to be compared).

6. Standardized tests favor those who have socio-economic advantages.  Test companies (a multi-billion dollar a year industry) not only manufacture the tests, they also manufacture the courses and programs that can be taken to “prepare for the test.”  If you have the money, you can even get special tutors that will help you do well on a test.  If you don’t have the money, and your school is in a low socio-economic area that gets less funding than rich suburban schools, then you’re not getting the same preparation for the test as those at the higher socio-economic levels do.

7. Because so much emphasis is placed on standardized test results these days, teachers are spending more and more time “teaching to the test.”  If there is something that is interesting, compelling, useful, or otherwise favorable to the development of a student’s understanding of the world, but it is not going to be on the standardized test, then there really isn’t any incentive to cover this material.  Instead, most of classroom time consists of either taking the tests or preparing for the tests, and this shuts out the possibility of learning anything new or important.  For example, because the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) only tests reading, math, and science that means that art, social studies, physical education, history, and other subjects are given far less attention than used to be the case.

8.  Standardized tests occur in an artificial learning environment:  they’re timed, you can’t talk to a fellow student, you can’t ask questions, you can’t use references or learning devices, you can’t get up and move around.  How often does the real world look like this?  Prisons come to mind.  And yet, even the most hard-headed conservative will say that education must prepare students for “the real world.” Clearly standardized testing doesn’t do this.

9.  Standardized tests create stress.  Some kids do well with a certain level of stress.  Other students fold.  So, again, there isn’t a level playing field.  Brain research suggests that too much stress is psychologically and physically harmful.  And when stress becomes overwhelming, the brain shifts into a “fight or flight” response, where it is impossible to engage in the higher-order thinking processes that are necessary to respond correctly to the standardized test questions.

10.  Standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience and human learning to a number or set of numbers.  This is dehumanizing.  A student may have a deep knowledge of a particular subject, but receive no acknowledgement for it because his or her test score may have been low.  If the student were able to draw a picture, lead a group discussion, or create a hands-on project, he/she could show that knowledge.  But not in a standardized testing room.  Tough luck.

11. Standardized tests weren’t developed by geniuses. They were developed by mediocre minds.  One of the pioneers of standardized testing in this country, Lewis Terman, was a racist (the book to read is The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould).  Another pioneer, Edward Thorndike, was a specialist in rats and mazes.  Just the kind of mind you want your kid to have, right?  Albert Einstein never created a standardized test (although he failed a number of them), and neither did any of the great thinkers of our age or any age.  Standardized tests are usually developed by pedantic researchers with Ph.Ds in educational testing or educational psychology.  If that’s the kind of mind you want your child or student to have, then go for it!

12. Standardized tests provide parents and teachers with a false sense of security.  If a student scores well on a test, then it is assumed that they know the material.  However, this may not be true at all.  The student may have simply memorized the fact or formula or trick necessary to do well on the test (some students are naturally gifted in taking standardized tests, others are not).  A group of Harvard graduates were asked why it is colder in the winter and warmer in the summer.  Most of them got the question wrong.  They were good test-takers but didn’t understand fundamental principles that required a deeper comprehension (the book to read is The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests; the K-12 Education that Every Child Deserves by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, named in a poll as one of the 100 greatest public intellectuals in the world).

13. Standardized tests exist for administrative, political, and financial purposes, not for educational ones.  Test companies make billions.  Politicians get elected by promising better test results.  Administrators get funding and avoid harsh penalties by boosting test scores.  Everyone benefits except the children.  For them, standardized testing is worthless and worse.

14. Standardized testing creates “winners” and losers.”  The losers are those who get labeled as “my low students” “my learning disabled kids,” “my reluctant learners.”  Even the winners are trapped by being caught up on a tread mill of achievement that they must stay on at all costs through at least sixteen years of schooling, and more often twenty years.  The losers suffer loss of self-esteem, and the damage of “low expectations” (which research shows actually negatively influences performance – the book to read is Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupils’ Intellectual Development by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson).  The winners suffer loss of soul, since most of them are trained seals performing for fast-track parents and may reach midlife on a pinnacle of power and achievement, yet lack any connection to their deeper selves, to ethical principles, to aesthetic feelings, to spiritual aspirations, to compassion, creativity, and/or commitment to life.

15.  Finally, my most important reason that standardized tests are worthless:  During the time that a child is taking a test, he/she could be doing something far more valuable:  actually learning something new and interesting!

To sign the petition against standardized testing, click here.

Read my latest book:  Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.  And visit my website:  www.institute4learning.com

About the author

I am the author of 16 books including my latest: The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students published by ASCD and available at: http://bit.ly/2bmxu5U.
48 Responses
  1. dj

    I wish this blog was in front paper of newspapers! i agree 100%. my child taken out of a core class for 30 days to practice for just math portion. my child has always excelled in math. grading practice work and adding it to the core class grade he has been taken out of, seems sneaky and unethical. Teaching children to not be responsible and sneaky to.cover the teachers slacking is wrong. just if a child has a disability doesnt mean arent smart enough to learn from what they see from teachers. Im not blaming all teachers. im very supportive of teachers that really care to help children succeed not cheat!

  2. Amanda

    I don’t know why people fail to understand that not every one has had the same opportunities and it is unfair to test them on the basis that they are all well prepared for the tests. One another thing is the time limit in these tests. Literally destroys your hand and many students actually know better than they are bale to write during the given time. If a student knows 90 percent of a subject but standardized tests test him on the 10 percent he did not learn, how can he be labelled a looser?

  3. Ryan

    This is all bull crap we need testing to determine the place of students while being the least stressful as possible.

  4. joanne

    i LOVEEE this article XDXD im using it for my paper;) great ideas! keep up the good work institute4learning!!!!!

  5. Brooke

    So if you don’t agree with standardized testing how do you suggest we check that students are comprehending the information they are taught? It is easy to bash a system, because every system has flaws, but you haven’t promoted an alternative form of testing that would work better. There must be some form of test, or students wouldn’t bother to learn the information and we’d have no way of knowing if they did or not. Standardized testing provides a equal way of testing students knowledge. Because if we tested students in different ways,based off of socioeconomic environment or race or gender that would be unfair.

  6. Sloane

    Everyone seriously needs to see this, not only is it complete facts about the horrors of testing, but it’s in a easy format to where anyone can quickly and easily read and understand it. I’m totally using this for my argument essay against testing.

  7. Autumn Swafford

    I sincerely believe that this website/blog is telling the truth because as children get told about a “major” test at the end of the year they start to worry more trying to pass. As a high school student, I would know how things are; this is my first year in high school and I was stressing my self out over mid-terms just last week. That is just half of the year. But for students to be stressing about some test that you are allowing to tell you if you’ve “passed” or “failed.” Instead of taking a test us students can be learning something that we’ve never learned before. Not only are students stressing about this “major” – “you have to pass” type of test, but also teachers stress too because they have to know what they have to “reteach” to the students and did the students learn what they are supposed to be learning. Also not everyone is good at test taking stratgies.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your story Autumn. I’m sure that many other high school students feel the same way that you do. Now we have to convince the powers-that-be that it’s more important to spend time in school learning rather than being tested. – Thomas Armstrong

  9. Thank you gadfly on the wall! Yes, like everything else in this corporate-driven society the rich control not just the money but the access to the money via testing in the schools.

  10. How about just asking students what they learned? One school does a video tape at the beginning of the year and one at the end of the year for each student – if someone has learned during the year – it shows! And how much better to get an experiential version of their learning than a stupid number?

  11. Thomas A

    You’re reasoning is completely awful on this topic. Most can be debunked with ease if you have personally taken a standardized test in today’s age like I have my whole life. I’m a freshman in college, and the only parents who have complained about this topic have lower aptitude children. “Bad test takers” do not exist. They are simply not smart. If you had the personal experience of going through this process, you would realize that it is necessary to take standardized tests because it polarizes the successful and lower students in a perfect manner.

  12. sam

    I strongly agree with your article. im in middle school and i am stuck taking tests for about one week out of every month. we miss an entire week of classes. that whole time we just click little bubbles over and over.

  13. Fiona

    So true, we would be better off just having the teacher ask questions and see if the kids know the answers by raising their hands. Teachers are often paid based on the kids test scores, so they stress the tests so that they can get the money they know they need, but in the process, make kids too terrified to complete the test. So Brooke, that is a solution right there. Worksheets are as well, not tests, but little things that they can practice on. There are alternatives, and any one of them is better than what we have now.

  14. So true, we would be better off just having the teacher ask questions and see if the kids know the answers by raising their hands. Teachers are often paid based on the kids test scores, so they stress the tests so that they can get the money they know they need, but in the process, make kids too terrified to complete the test. So Brooke, that is a solution right there. Worksheets are as well, not tests, but little things that they can practice on. There are alternatives!

  15. Skye Smith

    Ok, so first of all I think that the information presented in this Blog is genius and as a high school student who takes advanced courses; I can understand the stress part of a test. Standardized testing can be beneficial but, it can also go the opposite way, it all depends on that persons viewpoint and experiences. I believe that Mr. Armstrong knows what he is talking about and the way he presents his information is easily accessible to everyone. Great Job!! Mr. Armstrong and keep having those terrific ideas!!!

  16. Grace

    I’m in fifth grade and I’m doing a persuasive essay for school and this website really helped me see what standardized testing really is, my essay is on why standardized assessments don’t help children learn. I have some learning disabilities but the teachers don’t take that into consideration what so ever. Our school tells everyone to eat good breakfasts, to make sure our body feels ready for testing but what if a child didn’t have a good breakfast that morning because their parents can’t pay for nutritious foods for their child!

  17. Thanks so much for your response to my blog post. I hope that you’re able to minimize the damage from testing and maximize your true gifts – I taught students who had been diagnosed with learning disabilities and I discovered that they have many wonderful abilities including visualization, artistic capabilities, being machine smart, being future entrepreneurs, being able to see ”outside the box” and many other gifts. My best wishes go out to you for a successful life!

  18. Meka

    Thank you for sharing this! As a student who has just finished high school, I can agree with this blog 100% and can add to it by saying that there are instructions for what to do when a student pukes on a test. The fact that we have INSTRUCTIONS on what to do when a student gets so stressed out that they puke on the test shows just how often that happens. Standardized tests are not about students, teachers, or education, it’s about money. They do much more harm than good and even thinking about the tests give me anxiety. I have friends that scored very low on the ACT because they weren’t good at reading, but excelled in math or science. A lot of the questions aren’t even fair and I’ve spotted more than just one error on the test itself. During the science part, it was very unorganized and I ended up guessing on some of the questions because I simply couldn’t find the tables that were supposed to go with it. Standardized tests need to go, they are harming the education of students and can even damage their futures because you scored a 13 instead of 20… regardless of how hard you work and how talented you are.

    Thank you again for writing this.

  19. Dear Meka,

    Thank you for your impassioned plea to get rid of standardized testing. Also, thanks for letting me know about the INSTRUCTIONS on what to do if a student needs to puke during the test. That pretty much says it all. All best wishes to you in your future success in your chosen field!

    Thomas Armstrong

  20. Vicky

    This article helped me so much with my essay. Thank You! And I totally agree, I feel stressed and judged for tests.

  21. Margaret Rozmarynowycz

    Standardized tests are intended to measure what students have learned, and what they still need to learn. By definition, they are not intended to measure creativity, which is important for some things, like composing music, but not when you are doing math or driving a car, for example. And even if you are composing music or creating some other artistic work, you have to master the basics, such as scales for music, or perspective for art.

    Some students learn better by hearing, while others do better with the written word, and most people benefit from actually practicing what is being learned. But some type of testing is needed to assess what learning has taken place. Colleges use them to determine what classes you are ready for. Even prospective employers often employ tests in their hiring practices.

    Preparing for a test is always a good idea. There are so many internet resources now that you do not usually need to buy anything expensive. You just have to have the motivation to get out of your comfort zone and find resources.

    Most teachers do not form an opinion of a student based on one test. Rather, they give a variety of assignments, quizzes and tests to foster success in learning. Some students do well with essays, which require creativity, while others do well with multiple choice. Standardized tests are needed to measure learning in a consistent way.

  22. Aria

    I am an eighteen year old and have always been against standardized testing…Not only have I had educational testings, I also had taken a psychological test. I so called “failed” it due to my extreme anxiety and depression…and I must say that I wasn’t even doing my best at it.
    Do you know what the psychologist told me, and I quote “You only sound smart because of the way you talk,”

    Obviously this so-called “Doctor” wasn’t meant for the field…

    I agree with everything you said above. Even Einstein once said:

    “Everyone’s a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

    Clearly, we need to get this into people’s heads that standardized testing isn’t the way to go.

    I appreciate this so much, thank you!

  23. Isaiah

    I’m a senior in high school. I agree that students often miss out on a quality education due to a lack of flexibility of the teacher. Educators are forced to stick to strictly outlined material and don’t have the ability to explain things in depth. They teach just enough to get through the test. In all of my classes, its a mad dash to cover all of the material before the quickly approaching test date. Without these intimidating assessments, teachers would have the opportunity to slow down and make sure students know what they need ( and want ) to know.

  24. Kolby R. LaMarche

    Thank you Mr.Armstrong for your words on this topic and help of understanding. I am a student in the “wonderful” public schools of Vermont and am always complaining about them and submitting my time and my family’s tax dollars into this mockery of education. This will be my first year opting out! Wish me luck, and thank you again.

  25. grishma

    Hello sir, can you tell me where can i find a pdf of the book ” The Discipline Mind” where I could find the pages about the survey taken by Harvard graduates ?

  26. Ashley Simms

    Thank you for this article. This is what I believe exactly. As a high school student, I am giving a speech on this very topic. I am hoping that minds will change, and that by this speech, change will take place amidst our robotic society. I am weary of mediocrity, learning the “how” instead of the “why” and slipping lower and lower in our ranks according to education. Education used to be the most important aspect of life, but now it seems to be something that is merely viewed as ‘where you go five days a week.’ I can see it on my fellow peers’ faces. No one is happy to be at school…and that is because they are not cared for as an individual. I don’t know if this will ever change, but I am hoping our country will take a stand together for what is right. Deep down, we all know what is right…the obstacle that is blocking us now is hard work itself. We need to rise together!

  27. Thanks so much for your articulate reply. I’ve heard from so many students like you who are tired of being treated like a grade point average or test result. Perhaps together we can make a change!

  28. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to
    say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you
    write again soon!

  29. not giving it out

    i did not like what you said about even the most hard headed conservative can understand a child needs to be ready for the real world. im a conservative not a liberal like you.

  30. Chris

    This standardized testing crap is so retarded that it literally almost made a kid go in to a coma due to the pressure before and during the test. I wish Obama actually got to take them away. But NOOO! Congress said there is no chance that we are taking that test away. Die in a hole congress…

  31. Jenson Sturgis

    I am currently a sophomore in college. For my topic of the semester I have evaluating the topic I’ve been curious about since high school, “Are Standardized Tests A Good Measurement of a Student’s Growth and Intelligence”. This post is going to help me immensely with all my points that I presented in my research paper. As someone who has taken numerous standardized tests from the ones throughout 1st-10th grade to the ACT and SAT in Junior and Senior year of high school, I can totally relate to almost all of these posts. Anymore it’s just a bases of memory and has nothing to do with true intelligence. Along with more and more stories of teachers changing the tests and their scores to make themselves look better.

  32. Hana

    First off I apologize if I have any error such as; grammar or punctuation in my post. As an individual who has and still have to take some form of testing(s) (currently have to take three; SAT, ACT Workkey, and MSTEP all in two days) I agree with you! Majority of the information we learn for these testing we won’t use in our everyday life and if anything it causes students (individuals) to stress over nothing! They over exaggerate the test(s) stating if you don’t complete the test(s) you will be forever doom! Looking at this article and several other ones just like this helps me a lot ease my stress during testing time because it constantly reminds me it’s just a test, it doesn’t define me as an individual. Ever since I was a kid (still technically a kid by definition and according to my parents I will be forever a kid to them) I was always under this fake facade that if I don’t get good grades I won’t be able to make it out in the ‘real world’, but as I got older I started realizing that is only true to a certain extent.

  33. Using this for my paper, but let’s be honest.. No one’s gonna’ listen to us when we say that it’s a load of BS. Standardized testing sucks, and it’s one of the many problems of our flawed education system. It’s not about learning any more. It’s just about numbers. Namely, numbers followed by commas and zeros…

    Thank you, Dr. Armstrong, but I’m afraid by the time we can fix it, it won’t make a difference for me or my nonexistent children.

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