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“Tests are standardised, but students are not”
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“Tests are standardised, but students are not”

Standardised testing is a common academic measure, but Aura Whittier, 17, a Correspondent from San Juan, Trinidad, argues the powerful tool discriminates based on factors that students cannot control.

There my friend was, sobbing uncontrollably in my arms. He burst into tears in front of his mother as soon as he received his results; again when he saw me later that same day; again when next he saw my mom and she tried to speak encouragingly; and again when the topic resurfaced in a conversation we were having a few days later.

One might take the most obvious route, claiming that he or she should have studied more, and paid more attention in class. Or, one could dare to actually consider the real issue. If a child really was delinquent and undisciplined, would they be so heartbroken with their results, which they thought to be unsatisfactory?

Standardised testing is an inadequate measure of competence. Standardised testing favours those best at academic subjects such as mathematics or science, it favours those with the ability to memorise large volumes of information, and more importantly but rarely acknowledged, it favours those who have more economic opportunity. Historically marginalised groups, persons with disabilities and especially poverty-stricken persons are further disadvantaged in life due to standardised testing, because of the weight society has given it in determining one’s future.

Standardised testing is the only form of entry assessment in the Caribbean, and around a significant portion of the world. By definition[1], standardised testing assumes that all students receive the same opportunities, have the same capability or potential, live in the same situations and just generally can perform generically.

This is harmful for two reasons. The first is that the assumption that all the students are the same and can thus perform the same is invalid. The second harm is that standardised testing is used worldwide to determine key parts of an individual’s life, even though it does not sufficiently assess the true capabilities of an individual because of its inflexibility and limited scope.

Not only is each human being unique in interests, capabilities and personalities; each person lives in different circumstances and these circumstances directly impact their opportunities, and therefore, their outcomes. This issue goes far beyond students being interested in and excelling at different subject matters.

The concept of standardised testing is fundamentally inadequate and unfair. Students with more opportunities and economic well-being will always perform at a higher standard, assuming the ability of students are the same. (As students’ abilities are not the same, this highlights another issue that is not adequately addressed.)

Historically marginalised groups will always be at a further disadvantage because of this system. For example, a boy belonging to a single parent home, earning income below the poverty line, with younger siblings to care for and a house to maintain while the parent works long hours to provide the bare minimum of food and shelter for the family cannot perform in the same way that a middle-income or wealthy child can.

Poverty stricken children go hungry sometimes, have more responsibilities at home, cannot take extra lessons, may not be able to attend school every day for various reasons including lack of money to pay for transport. These students do not have access to amenities and resources that enhance academic performance such as textbooks, internet access and computers or electricity, to name a few amenities that standardised testing assumes are available to all.

Fortunately, there are recent provisions in policy for disabled persons, and laws promote gender equality in education. However, no one has yet addressed the fact that low income children do not have access to the  resources and opportunities that would allow them to perform the same on standardised tests.

This system of assessment that favours the wealthy, able majority and disadvantages the poor, disabled minority depresses these marginalised groups further and forces them to remain in poverty.

Standardised testing is just one other form of social depression. This plagues the Caribbean, especially, as a large percentage of the population of these islands lives in poverty. Education is supposed to be an equaliser and an opportunity for all, but unfortunately with this model of rigidity and a one-size-fits-all concept that ignores the external circumstances of persons’ lives, it proves very difficult for poverty stricken children to break free of this vicious cycle.

[1] A standardised test is any form of test that (1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a “standard” or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students. http://edglossary.org/standardized-test/

photo credit: Diari La Veu – http://diarilaveu.com 683735747 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a business student and a future developmental economist hopeful. I love to learn about and analyse social issues and how they relate to my study, but also to my own underlying ethical values. I have a keen interest in youth empowerment, involvement and development. As such, I spend the majority my free time tutoring disadvantaged youth and participating in self-development youth programs. Of course, I also spend a significant amount of time reading and writing.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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