Standardised tests are examinations in which participants answer the same questions. The tests are marked in a ‘standard and consistent’ manner, creating a clear picture of the student’s abilities as a whole. Yes, it sounds as fun as beige paint drying. However, there’s a lot of talk about these tests, and they might not be as beneficial as we’ve been lead to believe. Are we destroying our children’s confidence by pitting them against one another, or are the tests there to develop their abilities?
It’s simple concept – testing children to see where they rank against their peers, but they do substantially more than just that. NAPLAN, your ATAR score and so on, actually dictate some crucial areas of our country like funding schools who test lower, identifying the needs of children who require support, reforming strategies of teaching and a slew of other benefits (Gonski shout-out). All of these motives affect other facets of society – employment, politics, community, health – basically everything. These branches of life aren’t going anywhere, so standardised testing will be evergreen and forever advantageous. Who knew those comprehension questions and fraction problems were actually bettering society?
Australia is trying to understand if standardised tests are still valuable and if there isn’t a less subversive puzzle piece that fits our 2017 outlook – in that we are all little flowers with our own little needs – there are students who thrive in fluorescent, worksheet environments when others need to learn with their hands or study part-time. Even our test results have been showing an ever-growing scale both below and above; students are so specified that the NAPLAN scale keeps expanding from struggling to gifted children. But having these independently marked exams crams everybody into answering the same questions even if our abilities and comfort surrounding tests differ. If we’re a collection of individuals, is it beneficial to pigeonhole us all together and treat us like statistics? It might just be.
NAPLAN doesn’t just query us about our skills, it informs the country on where their future leaders are at. This testing allows the government to fund what is necessary: the underprivileged schools who perform lower, implementing new techniques or assessment strategies and much more. This means children from around Australia get the fairest chance possible from subsidies divided equally. Our government plays a huge role in the results (from a distance, but with great impact) so we need to understand how pivotal the outcomes are, for our schools, teachers and children.
For educators, there’s a great divide in morality and relevance. In a classroom, every student needs hard evidence of their abilities – worksheets, creative writing samples, anecdotal notes from the teacher – all of this to report on. The teachers need to see what every kid struggles with and thrives with to create a personal learning plan for each child – and standardised testing is a mandatory approach. A quote I often hear is “teachers already know where their students are, the tests aren’t for students to enjoy, the results are there to direct teachers on their strategies”.
But where teacher’s distaste lies is in showcasing the results. They don’t want to tell the children how they rank against their classmates – all that matters is how to improve the child’s personal performance. When you force kids against each other, their confidence shrivels, their curiosity for learning disappears and the camaraderie becomes sour, all because their test results have hardened their potential. Don’t you remember receiving a page of work with red pen noting all your mistakes? This isn’t just from primary school, this occurs in high school (more vocally and often in front of the entire classroom) and throughout university, so the embarrassment never ends! Being constantly corrected and never commended isn’t enjoyable, even for adults. Nobody wants to hear that they don’t measure up.
Perhaps the feedback is important to students so they can develop – isn’t that an advantage? A recent study has found that teachers can improve their children’s potential by more than 80% by giving them instant feedback. When an educator catches a student doing something wrong (or right), they should explain the situation and allow them time to practice, instead of waiting until the next day with test results after the bad habits have had time to sink in. NAPLAN doesn’t deliver results until weeks after testing day, and even non-standardised tests can’t have answers that quickly. There’s no time like the present, so if specific feedback on questions is a main purpose of the tests, then they’re failing miserably.
These standardised tests do have relevance with further study however. When applying to study medicine for example, your ATAR needs to be 97-100 (on average) but who says that a 90 scoring student couldn’t be better than a 99 tester? In this day and age, students are spoiled for alternative options on how to break into their chosen career path in case their ATAR scores aren’t what they planned for. Pathways’ entire purpose is for students who didn’t receive their ideal score – it has come to fruition due to a lack of high scores in pupils who tried their best. These ATAR scores are critical for university applications, but not for general knowledge on your skill, seeing as a huge amount of students are disappointed after receiving their scores. Some would say it’s unhealthy.
On the topic of mental health, standards are alarming low. With the constant comparisons society lays upon us, the ever-changing opinionated internet and expectations of older generations, the youth of today have unlimited hiccups to cope with. High school diploma results have formed TV shows (My Year 12 Life on ABC), created tears for parents and students alike and have solidified a false record of potential. See, the statistics show mental health issues have skyrocketed and in adolescents have spiked prolifically. There’s a multitude of possibilities as to the reasons for this, but the idea of shoving graded exams down young people’s throats for the purpose of further education and making it a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario surely isn’t helping.
Parents are obsessed with their children getting good grades – it’s in our human nature to want to see people close to us succeed. These same parents don’t focus on ways of improving though, and tend to only highlight the tiny wins, which creates students who are optimistic yet ordinary – building self confidence but also living through rose tinted glasses in the process. Not every child will be a doctor, but every child should be content with whatever they choose to do. The idea of focusing on grades should be secondary to health and happiness.
We’ve lead children to believe they were outstanding in a pool of 24 classmates, but when they’re measured up against thousands, they end up plateauing. Molly-coddling, golden trophy ideals anybody?
Although the topic of standardised testing isn’t going away anytime soon, there’s a pretty clear list of pros and cons. It’s consequential that the government knows our mean, mode and median so they can raise our low-end and study our high-end testers. Our educators need the results to tailor-make lesson plans so our students can learn the way that works best for each of them. The real problem that most people face with these exams is the position we take versing others. We’re hired for that dream job because of our personal abilities and experience and we work on ourselves because we have the confidence to strive for individual success. All I can ever be is the best version of myself, so stop telling me how I stack up against my peers and let my personal success shine.