Standardized Testing Not Up To Standard

With the state of Maryland requiring a “fall diagnostic assessment” MCPS decided on administering the MAP-R and MAP-M.

NWEA

With the state of Maryland requiring a “fall diagnostic assessment” MCPS decided on administering the MAP-R and MAP-M.

Sagun Shrestha, Editor-In-Chief

Due to the pandemic, the Maryland State Education Department mandated that each school district administer a “fall diagnostic assessment” in the form of some standardized test, leaving it up to the county to choose their preferred examination.

MCPS decided on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, or MAP, which would be conducted at home, online through students’ own devices. The two versions enacted were the Math and Reading tests. However, a variety of issues call into question the reliability of these test results and can further negate the need for standardized testing at all. 

“Standardized tests put unnecessary stress on the test taker. MAP testing is not too much of a big deal to me as other standardized tests because it will be used to monitor progress rather than give me a pass or fail,” said senior Lahiruni Dias Amarawardena.

Dias Amarawardena highlights one of the glaring weaknesses of the standardized test, in which students aren’t necessarily motivated to try their best. Combined with the already low spirits of students brought on by quarantine, there proves to be little incentive in relying on these test outcomes.

“High school students are very practical, rational people when it comes to expending effort,” said English teacher Christopher Lee. “Many students will behave as rational economic actors and cruise through it rather than trying their best. If students’ Chromebooks included tiny built-in ATMs that dispensed $20 in cash for every right answer, I suspect the score distribution would look quite different.” 

Another issue included distractions brought on by a student’s home life. Instead of being in a silent classroom with everyone completing the same test, being at home can subject students to uncomfortable spaces not meant for distant learning, which can include loud noises or interruptions.

“The MAP testing during COVID felt like a burden for students who had too many issues to worry about. The home environment varies from person to person so it’d be difficult to put in the same amount of effort as usual. To me it was an irrelevant test as I hadn’t even taken it since elementary school,” said Dias Amarawardena.

This very sentiment is shared by teachers as well, with the objective of testing seemingly contradictory to its actual content. For upperclassmen especially, it’s difficult to gauge the progress they may have made because the test doesn’t even cover many of the classes they have taken over their high school career.

“The MAP-M only tests through Precalc, so AP Calculus, Statistics and Multivariable Calc are not covered. They want to use this test to measure growth throughout the year, but if the content students are learning is not covered, why do we need to give this test?” said a CHS math teacher who wished to remain anonymous.

Since the MAP used to only be mandated through eighth grade, most high school students haven’t even taken the test for years. Their last test score could be incredibly outdated, as high school curriculum is drastically different from its middle school counterpart.

“The state mandated we give an assessment and compare the data to where students were this time last year. It makes sense for middle school or even ninth grade students, who did take MAP last year. They’ll have somewhat accurate baseline data. However, my 11th & 12th graders haven’t taken MAP-M in 2 or 3 years,” said the same anonymous math teacher.

While reading comprehension is different from math, similar problems arise when standardized testing attempts to condense and simplify a student’s understanding of a text into approximately 50 multiple choice questions that don’t even focus on the same topic, much less passage.

“Reading and interpreting text is one of the most complicated things that human beings do, which is why, for instance, your phone’s CPU can solve a calculus problem in a fraction of a second but there’s no supercomputer on earth that can posit an interpretation of what the play Hamlet is trying to convey about ambition,” said Lee.

A case can be made for the importance of testing, especially considering that the MAP-R provides a Lexile Reading Level, which can tentatively confirm or deny college readiness from a reading perspective, but even that has to be taken with a grain of salt.

“At best, these tests give us only a blurry picture of how well students are doing with some basic skills that they’ll need for the higher-level thinking that happens when people read,” said Lee. “On the other hand, those basic skills are necessary, so we do need to be sure they’re in place, and testing can be a way to roughly monitor that.”

Even with some arguments supporting it, the era of standardized testing seems to be coming to a close. As most colleges become test-optional this application season, it brings forth the question: was standardized testing ever truly necessary in the first place?

“Whenever you take any really complex process and you try to distill the success of that process down to one number, you can end up creating distortions and misrepresentations—which people then mistakenly treat like reliable facts because they’re numbers,” said Lee.