Photo of high school students taking a testIt’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.

Interested in the ideas discussed in this article?  Order my book: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education.

This article was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education -

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110 Responses
  1. Kz

    I agree with this. Kids are pressured to take tests like they were robots. But the funny thing is, they aren’t robots. They are KIDS, and kids have unique skills, and they should be able to use those. Standardized tests kill kid’s creativity, replacing it with fear and frustration. They are stressed out all year about the tests. Also, they may do excellent during regular school or in (a) certain subject(s), while the tests are either focused on subjects that that kid is not good at, or they create too much stress for the kid that, while they normally do just fine, they flunk it. The tests also do not care about what the kid may have been dealing with at that time, or what types of learning styles they have. The tests do not vary from kid to kid, instead they are the same for every kid, every year. If we eliminated the tests and instead the teachers tracked the kids’ progress throughout the year, then they could teach to each kid differently, varying their learning opportunities, and making improvements on their weak areas. Overall, I disagree with these tests that are for money, not for the kids. And the kids are the ones that are taking the tests in the first place! Maybe America should start focusing on our kids’ education instead of themselves and how much money they get!

  2. Kiley Giebel

    I completely agree with this post, students take an approximate 112 standardized tests throughout their school career. This is a significant burden for students and frankly very expensive for parents who have to purchase all of their study aids. However, parents are beginning to ask themselves more frequently: Why am I paying for this, and why am I supporting something that makes my child so anxious? According to a neaToday poll, 64% of people say that there is to much emphasis on standardized testing, and that it does not have to be so aggressively pushed. Not only is there too much emphasis, but also there is growing controversy of the important of these tests to a child’s future. Five out of ten parents believe that the ACT test is not efficient, and it does not demonstrates their child’s knowledge. Now, because of all the addition and variety of school programming students are wondering why anticatuated tests like the ACT are still defining their accomplishments. The IB and AP program are just two options a student should be able to use as a diversification grade for college. The stress from college admissions of standardized testing affects students at school, home and in social settings. The stress can sometimes be too much. Next time think before putting your child through 112 standardized tests.

  3. William

    Thank you to grace for writing that comment. your point of view helped my team in the class debate that our class is doing see a different point of view.

  4. […] of what a students knows, there stressful, and are taken in unrealistic testing environments, etc (Why Standardized tests are Worthless). Despite knowing all of that, I think they are important and offer information about there student […]

  5. Middle School Student

    I am a middle school student and I strongly agree with this website. It sucks when you have to be stuck in a silent room with no one to talk to. And to add to that now, we have to do our tests on computers where you have the great risk of the system glitching and losing the entire thing. I think that they should make testing not a requirement.

  6. Kayden

    I don’t think a test should determine your future nor hold you back from continuing your studies. It is just a test to see how far you have come, in regards to learning. Taking the standardized tests and not performing well doesn’t mean the end of the world for you. Most people who are successful didn’t perform well and they decided to work and improve on themselves during college and university studies. As a matter of fact, most people who take these standardized tests cheat to make their way through. In the end, the true colors will show in the real world.

  7. Another Student

    I need to do a written argument in class, and this was the perfect article for my response. I also agree with the fact that this is unnecessary, it focuses on a specific method, rather than the greater response. I am in a special program for “gifted” students, and I normally score low B’s on these. I and many other students don’t want our futures to be rejected by an unfair test.

  8. Another Student

    I need to do a written argument in class, and this was the perfect article for my response. I also agree with the fact that this is unnecessary, it focuses on a specific method, rather than the greater response. I am in a special program for “gifted” students, and I normally score low B’s on these. I and many other students don’t want our futures to be rejected by an unfair test. This is a perfect argument.

  9. Shawn Chimney

    Standardized tests are mostly worthless, they measure a student’s aptitude in a narrow range of content matter on one day of their lives; yet somehow it determines school districting, capital flow, and quality of a public school. No one should focus on their results from such assessments. There are so many better ways to measure learning, and if there were no grades in school, the competition we see now would turn into collaboration, which is amazing. Lecturing students for hours on end, giving them a second shift of “work” with mindless math problems, simplistic analysis questions, and pages of a book to read, and expecting them to regurgitate that information on a test, regardless of its quality, is disgusting. We need a sound leader who focuses on project-based learning, and competency-based grade and levels in school (not grades by age). That way each semester, on a new balanced school calendar with 3 month quarters and a few weeks off in-between, can feature an exhibition and student portfolio of work, to see what real-life, career-style work they are completing, not jumbled-up random facts somewhere in a slanted textbook. I am so interested in school reform and I am only in high school and have done so much research. Thank you for writing great articles like this one.

  10. Thanks so much for your well-articulated views on standardized testing. The fact that you’re in high school adds a measure of credibility to your arguments. I hope that you go into education and lend your powerful voice to the conversation about what kids need in order to learn. Thanks again!

  11. Thomas McDonnell

    These tests are a filter. They show people who are the ones who work best under pressure. Regular tests are useless as well. People memorize the information but don’t actually know the information. We need school to allow student show they know the material not telling them. The test for college are wrong. Student may be more than capable of doing the work because it is not timed. Also the tests are not engaging. If the tests determine your future, Don’t waste money going to college. Your ACT and SAT scores say you are not capable.

  12. kristen

    Thank you for your article, it truly is inspiring. I’ve always struggled with math (dyscalculia) and it has impacted my test scores in the classroom and on standardized tests. It does not measure your value or success, and lacks creativity, so the stress, the time limit, and the content makes me really struggle to reach the standard scores I am supposed to have. I hope we do replace them with something better, maybe simply being interviewed by colleges for human interaction. Luckily, I did get into grad school despite my low test scores, I just have to take another test to prove that I have improved, which isn’t ideal but necessary.

  13. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad that standardized testing didn’t keep you from grad school. More and more universities are seeing the limitations of testing and are placing greater value on experiences (hobbies, projects etc.) in making admission decisions. Good luck!

  14. Tod Policandriotes, PhD

    I agree there may be too many, but standard education tests should be given at key points in the students educational development. I would propose 3 main tests through the 0-12 level. These should be taken at 4 year intervals to determine each students development. We should also be looking at the textbooks being used. The content in history and language skills should be intensely scrutinized to be as accurate as possible and promote a non-biased, non-political viewpoint. Math and science should be very accurate, non-biased and focused on maximum learning potential. If we want our children to be competitive in today’s highly populated world, then we need to become more rigid in what we teach them in the lower education system. We need more logic in determining the books used.
    The goal is to teach (program) students to be well educated individuals, independent thinkers, driven, ambitious, creative and imaginative with a good work ethic. We should want our young to be as well prepared as possible for this world. Strong foundations in language skills, debate, non-biased history, math and science. I see so many young people that are really ignorant these days and have very little retained vital knowledge. We also need to use these testing standards to either retrain or remove poor teachers. We must do better for our young!

  15. Many good ideas in your comments. I don’t like your use of the word ”rigid” however – maybe ”firm” or ‘solid” would be better. Chinese philosophy tells us that trees that are rigid break more easily in the wind! Thanks for sharing!

  16. wow

    Tests are necessary. Every person wants subjective factors in college admission so that they can feel good about themselves, but that is not the case. Just because you are a good person you don’t deserve the spot more than someone who is more academically able.

  17. They aren’t necessarily “worthless”, it’s just that this method is too one-dimensional to fully measure a students capabilities. I agree to a certain extent that this isn’t such a great way of measuring whether a student should be admitted to an educational institution, all they should do is make their testing methodology and make admissions fit for equality and not too one-dimensional.

  18. Hi Thomas!

    Thank you for your post. I tottally agree with you, especially with the fact that standardized tests don’t value creativity. As an elementary teacher I think the creativity is one of the most important things in educational process!

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