The drawbacks of Standardized Testing in Schools

SOURCE: TED and Reddit asked Sir Ken Robinson

It’s not that I am against standardized testing. What I’ve personally got a rant about is the extent to which standardized testing, firstly, has become a massive commercial industry which is detached, in most cases, from the real purpose of education. And secondly, the extent to which we’ve come to associate standardizing with raising standards. Now, everybody agrees we should raise standards in schools. Of course you should. But, the primary instrument that’s being used is standardized testing. And the problem with it is that it fails to do the one thing we know works if we want to improve standards in schools, which is to address personal development.

The larger argument about this is that when I say public education arose in response to industrialism, it also developed in the image of industrialism. If you look at public education systems in their general shape, they are manufacturing processes. And a lot of it happens — we separate people by age, it’s a very linear process, very focused on certain types of outcome. And standardized testing is, in a way, the grand example of the industrial method of education. It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.

You’ve almost got to get the balance right here, but we’ve had now years and years and billions of dollars worth of investment in the expansion of standardized testing, in American schools for example (but this isn’t just America, it’s around the world), and for the most part they’ve not been successful in doing what they’re expected to, which is to raise standards. If anything, they seem to have contributed to a lowering of morale in schools. They seem to have contributed to an erosion of commitment. In America, for example, there’s something like a minimum of 30 percent dropout rates from high schools — it’s much higher among certain ethnic communities. Kids are being turned off from school, in part because of the whole culture, not just the tests themselves, but the educational culture they promote.

So, my argument is that instead of standardizing everything in schools we should be going in the opposite direction. I don’t think there’s a kid in America, or anywhere in the world, who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their state’s reading standards. They get out of bed, if they’re motivated, by their own interests and their own development. So I think we should be doing the opposite. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.

I am in complete agreement. Testing is so much a source of pain for kids. Every year 2-3 children in Delhi commit suicide for fear of exams. This is SICKENING and should never happen. Especially since the results of testing do not have any co-relation with eventual success in life.

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