Standardized testing. Even the teachers hate the time of year when the big, high stakes testing rolls around. In fact, if you want a specific number, the National Education Association surveyed 1,500 teachers and found that a whopping 70% of them believe that standardized testing is not developmentally appropriate. When it’s time for these tests to start making their appearances, memes from my stressed out friends who teach often flood my social media accounts. I see rants, pleas for help, and viral posts about how standardized testing scores are very small aspects of a students’ ability to succeed. 

I remember helping students get ready for these tests. Also, I remember spending ridiculous amounts of time trying to drill it into my fine-motor-impaired students that they need to fill in the whole bubble and nothing but the bubble that marked the answer that they want. Judging from the amount of time teachers are required to spend prepping for these tests, we can only assume that they are absolutely critical in understanding whether a student is ready to move on to another grade or whether they should be accepted into their college of choice. Judging from the fact that we’ve discussed how people spend time and funds on lots of things that are less than useful, maybe it would be a good idea to examine the standardized testing debate a little further. What are the pros and cons of standardized testing? Is standardized testing effective?

Benefits of Standardized Testing

Standardized testing has a place in our school systems. There are plenty of people out there who would vehemently disagree with me, but there are specific reasons as to why standardized testing is good. Let’s talk about those reasons.

Standardized testing sets up…well… standards.

In a classroom, testing is crucial for a teacher to know whether their students are actually soaking in the material. We could stand and preach and practice all day and get rid of the testing. But this would only serve to the detriment of the student. When we test them, we know what they need and can adjust.

On a larger level, like for an entire school, testing is crucial to see whether teachers are actually accomplishing their jobs. While there have been more and more systems set in place to check teachers, they largely have control over their classrooms and students from day to day. No one is constantly checking in on them to make sure they’re covering all the necessary subjects in a day. No one is checking in often enough to prevent a potential educational disaster such as a teacher spending an entire year on astronomy because it’s their favorite subject. 

Objective, standardized testing is just one way staff can know that their students are being taken care of. When we take the logic behind standardized testing on a school level and apply it to the entire nation, it’s much easier to see how it can be beneficial. There are reasons why the government (and parents!) know which schools are going to do the best for the children. It’s because schools have been tested by the same standards and some have come out higher than others. There are obviously flaws in this system, but we’ll discuss those later. There has to be some kind of educational standard set up. And there has to be accountability to those standards or they mean nothing. Standardized testing is one way to keep people accountable for the learning occurring in their schools.

Standardized testing can help drive instruction if the testing data is used how it’s supposed to be. 

pros and cons of standardized testing

I learned to love the value of testing as a teacher. It helped me see patterns in what the students were comprehending and what they weren’t comprehending. It helped me find holes in my teaching on a broad level as well as find incorrect patterns of thinking for specific individuals in my class.  If I gave a math test, and a good portion of my class struggled with multiplying fractions, I could know that I was the problem and I could adjust. If I had a specific student who failed an entire section of a test, sometimes it was easy to determine what small error of thinking they had conceptually and to adjust it and allow them to succeed. 

The problems come in when we’re just using scores to praise or condemn. Those scores, and the data that gets brought in with them, can help us know where to focus our efforts either for our current class or for the next year coming in. In this way, standardized testing can be very beneficial if teachers are willing to use the tools they are given from it.

Standard testing can set up prioritization.

Not only are we looking at general standards getting set up and instruction being focused on very specific parameters, we’re looking at priorities that are going to drive the success of most of the students. If we could live in a perfect world, every student would receive a personal education, playing to their strengths and desires while still providing them with a well-rounded education on various topics. 

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we need to get as many students on track to succeed as possible. Sometimes that means prioritizing reading over music instruction. I do not discount the importance of music instruction. I’ve taught music, and I love music. The contribution of music to the world is significant. But the contribution is often made by fewer individuals than the contributions of students who can read and compute math problems. More students will become engineers in comparison to becoming orchestra conductors. And while we need orchestra conductors and the whole mass of musicians that inspire our world, we will need more engineers. Standardized testing has set the focus on skills that are going to push the most amount of students towards success.

Standardized testing gets rid of bias because it’s graded by a computer.

There are students who need the extra scaffolding as we go along. However, every once in a while, we need some kind of comparison on how they’re doing in regards to the educational standards that everyone is held to. This helps teachers push them to where they need to be rather than always falling back on scaffolding or giving the extra points the student needs to feel successful. We need some of both kinds of testing.

Cons of Standardized Testing

It’s important to know the benefits of standardized testing. Nonetheless, it can also be important to know why standardized testing is bad. Having a knowledge of both can help us keep scores in perspective as well as helping our students keep them in perspective.

Standardized testing can impact confidence in very negative ways. 

pros and cons of standardized testing

Students with learning disabilities or students who come from situations where they have been a little left behind can find themselves giving up in the face of comparison to other students. Most students are very willing to learn, and most students are very capable of learning in a generalized school setting. However, not all students are fed breakfast in the morning or even dinner the night before. Many students weren’t taken to school for over half the year. Many students can be very good at some subjects but their dyslexia causes them to fail standardized tests anyway. 

Teachers can help students come a long way in confidence by helping students see that they’re capable of learning. Teachers are powerful. However, after a year of hard work with a teacher, it can crush some students to see those test scores coming back in. After spending the year feeling like they can potentially measure up, to see scores in such black and white circumstances can be cruel and unyielding.

Standardized testing only shows one facet of a student. 

It’s a limited measure of fulfilling educational standards. If we remember that, standardized testing doesn’t need to be a negative thing. It can be just one number in the midst of so many other things a student is and can become.

Standardized testing tests the teachers. 

We discussed previously the notion that teachers have to be held to a standard just like everyone else. The difficult part comes in the fact that these teachers are being tested on quality control with little (or big!) human beings that hold their own desires, whims, struggles, and circumstances. We find private schools around the nation performing at record testing scores. And parents are itching to get their students into these schools. However, did anyone stop and ask whether this success is a result of superior teachers or simply a result of a home that sets prioritization on education?

In some areas, teachers can find incentives or even lose their jobs over the scores of their students. And while yes, there needs to be accountability, shouldn’t we be giving the hardest students to the best teachers? And won’t some of these hard students still receive low scores on testing. Yes! Test scores are not always an accurate picture of a teacher. Once again, they can be one facet, but there is so much more to consider.

One bad day can follow a student for a very long time. Imagine a somewhat introverted, but also extremely academically gifted young student. He’s done well in school all year. Tests don’t cause him too much anxiety. Though he isn’t particularly social, he goes home to a loving family and gets his homework done. The week of standardized testing rolls around, and his dog gets hit by a car the night before he takes his math exam. This may not affect every student, but it may affect some students dramatically. And it may negatively affect their academic records for years to come.

Standardized testing can be disciminatory. 

We live in a nation where a majority of students speak English. So it makes sense to put these tests in English. However, we also live in a nation of immigrants where some students are still learning the English language. Like the dyslexic student who is good at math, these increasingly bilingual children can find themselves with low scores despite their true capabilities. Standardized testing is not an accurate measure in the slightest in these circumstances.


Standardized testing is necessary, and it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. If educators, legislators, parents, and students can understand the actual scope of standardized testing and its true place in our school systems, they can be effective tools to better our national education. If we start to emphasize them too much or turn them into the devil, we run the risk of missing out on the benefits.


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