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To test or not to test?

assessment standardised testing

While examinations and standardised tests are generally regarded as a fair and efficient way of assessing a student’s knowledge and understanding, a number of criticisms have been levelled against high-stakes assessments that are used for accountability purposes. These include the following:

  • An over-reliance on examination grades or test scores can limit what is on the curriculum and encourage teaching to the test (Jennings and Bearak, 2014), even if this consequence is not intended. Parents, and even students, may put pressure on the teacher to cover exam content.

  • Examinations (and tests) can be over-predictable, leading to rote learning, which may be quickly forgotten after the examination has been completed (Baird et al., 2015). Other approaches to learning, such as those based on constructivist and socio-cultural theories, align better with more continuous and student-centred approaches to assessment (see Chapters 4 and 5 of Understanding and Applying Assessment in Education).

  • Grade inflation, where examination grades creep up over time, undermines con¬fidence in the examination process (Coe, 2010).

  • Examinations and tests that are used to classify students can lead to labelling and may influence teacher expectations in negative ways.

  • Many standardised tests do not provide information on what the student has learned, only how he/she stands relative to other students.

  • Externally regulated examinations and tests take the responsibility for assessment of learning away from teachers.

  • League tables of schools based on examination grades or standardised test scores often fail to take students’ initial levels of achievement or their socioeconomic status into account. The use of alternative approaches to assessment (assessment for learning) would strengthen processes such as school evaluation.

  • There is potential social and economic inequity associated with examinations and standardised achievement tests, with some social and ethnic groups con¬sistently achieving higher average grades or scores than others.

Join the debate: What are some the advantages?

In the literature on assessment, concerns about the negative effects of examinations and standardised tests abound. Literature supporting such assessment is available but can be harder to locate. Use the internet to access at least two articles to make a case for AoL. Document four or five points that support the use of summative assessment to improve students’ learning. The further reading section at the end of chapter 3 of Understanding and Applying Assessment in Education is a useful guide too.
You can also use the prompts available online here when addressing this question.

*The above is an edited extract from Understanding and Applying Assessment in Education