With the increasing use of standardized tests to assess students and schools, some critics have begun to speak out about flaws that they see in the hope that they can stimulate a discussion which may result in reform. These tests can be a valuable education tool, providing a basic yardstick to see how children are performing in relation to their peers, but some people have raised concerns about how heavily they are relied on for feedback about student performance. Most critics care very much about children and the education that they receive, but feel that testing alone cannot accurately convey whether or not a child is learning and progressing. These critics have taken their complaints to a wide variety of forums, and they include parents, teachers, and education professionals who are concerned about the well being of children.
One of the most frequently stated criticisms of standardized tests is that they do not measure creativity and problem solving ability. Because they are typically presented in a multiple choice format, a teacher cannot, for example, see where a child went wrong when he or she failed to solve a math problem correctly, because no work is shown. In addition, critics feel that the questions are often too simplistic for children to fully demonstrate reading comprehension, critical thinking, and problem solving. Especially in the case of reading selections, there may not be a single "right" answer to a question, and learning why children pick the answers that they do might help educators to provide better support.
Critics who feel that tests are too simplistic believe that knowing information by rote does not always mean that information has been digested. For example, a student might be able to answer a question asking when Columbus came to the Americas, but may not understand the cultural and historical implications of the Age of Exploration, and the profound impact that Columbus had on global history. Test takers are not provided with space to process and explore issues because it would make them prohibitively expensive to administer and score.
Many critics are also concerned about bias in test taking. Certain cultural and language biases may be impossible to eradicate entirely from standardized tests, critics believe, meaning that some populations such as girls and minorities may be at a disadvantage. While test writing companies do their best to eliminate obvious bias and offensive language, it is a difficult thing to correct for entirely.
Educators are concerned about these tests because many of them feel that they encourage teachers to teach students test taking strategies, and to “teach to the test,” which may have a negative impact on the quality of education that these teachers can offer. Critics are worried that students may be forced to study a narrow range of topics, rather than exploring a wide variety of issues, and they will not learn valuable life skills as a result of stress about standardized test performance. Many teachers believe that standardized tests restrict the curricula that they can teach, because they want their students to succeed on important and sometimes life-changing tests.
This is also a concern for some critics, who believe that the practice of high-stakes testing is potentially harmful for children. Some children exhibit extreme emotional and physical stress when confronted with standardized tests, and educators have recorded children crying, vomiting, or acting out aggressively due to the pressure that high-stakes testing creates. Some educational assessors are also concerned that such testing may bring about cheating, because students are anxious to perform well and teachers want to see their students scoring well.
Critics of standardized testing believe that children should be evaluated in a number of ways, rather than by using only one system to assess the needs and learning of students. Teachers play an important role, because they interact with children on a daily basis in the classroom and can speak out about potential problems that they see, as well as providing educational enrichment and support. Outside observers can also participate in evaluations by holding interviews with teachers and students, sitting in on active classes, and considering other evaluation methods to supplement testing.