Why are there still standardized tests?

Standardized tests in school?

Germany is a country that is perceived as a whole, but has many differences. Not only in terms of dialects, cultural peculiarities and history, the different regions of Germany have to be distinguished from one another, the school landscape is also confusing and complicated thanks to federalism in Germany. Education is a matter of the country, that is the motto of the German school system. But now voices are being heard that want to put an end to diversity, a beginning has already been made - the central high school diploma. But standardized tests are also being introduced for the very young pupils in order to measure the level of performance and psychological readiness for school. From a global perspective, Germany is still a country that tends to lag behind in terms of standardization in education. Examples such as the USA or the East Asian countries have already largely implemented this idea. International comparisons are also intended to provide cross-border orientation. The best-known example of a standardized performance survey is probably the PISA study, which suddenly brought the topic of education back into the media and into the debate. But what is the idea behind the requirement for comparability and standardization? Because despite the big trend towards standardization, the enthusiasm for this is rather limited, especially among the teachers concerned, as well as the parents and the students.

What should be measured?

The aim of standardized tests is to establish comparability. Of course, clear indicators must be established that should capture a certain ability, skill or knowledge. In addition, solutions must be given and ordered, so it must be made clear which answers are correct, sufficient or incorrect and how these answers are recorded with the awarding of points or other instruments. Care must be taken to ensure that the test corresponds to the knowledge and performance of the persons tested and that they can work on it. In the case of a standardized and extensive test, there is also the fact that the above-mentioned steps must be extended to a very large group of people tested.

Of course, a performance test must also meet the usual scientific quality criteria, such as objectivity, reliability (reliability of the test, repeatability) and validity. The criterion of validity provides information on whether a measuring instrument also measures what it is supposed to measure. That might sound banal at first, but it turns out to be problematic, especially with regard to the far-reaching conclusions and measures that sometimes follow standardized measurement results.

What is actually being measured?

In particular, large-scale standardized tests can only measure easily ascertainable and quantifiable factors. In the case of a math problem in a test, for example, usually only the solution is relevant, the path is not taken into account. However, it does make a difference whether this solution is done in an elegant and imaginative way, or in a long or memorized way. In order to assess a performance, it is not only the result that is relevant. However, a standardized test usually cannot provide a holistic recording and is limited to a few clearly measurable measuring points. Everything else that defines education remains by the wayside and invisible to the test results. This is initially legitimate, since large-scale tests can only work with very clear and specific instruments. The problem that standardized test procedures bring with them, however, lies not so much in the limitation of the measurements, but in their incorrect interpretation.

This is also the case with PISA, a study on the performance recording of schoolchildren, which brought about far-reaching criticism of the entire school system. Only a few asked themselves what was actually measured and whether these results are meaningful and relevant to the education debate in Germany.

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The topic brings with it a lot of questions that cannot be discussed in a short blog post. The question, for example, of what kind of education we want to and can offer our children and what kind of people they should later become. Because with the introduction of nationwide standards and the resulting competition (not least economic interests also depend on the results), we not only promote competitive thinking in the minds of the very little ones, we also educate them to be obedient drummers who get the good grades as view the goal of their school career. Last but not least, we spoil their desire to learn. Studies show that the standardization of performance measurements also leads to schools increasingly aligning themselves with quantifiable aspects of teaching and relegating other equally important aspects to the background. In addition, the pressure to do well in a test means that short-term, promising strategies, such as cramming test items, are preferred to long-term, holistic strategies. So it is learned what is important for the test. If you consider how the tests are developed and what a small part of the knowledge and skills imparted in school they test, it becomes clear how problematic this strict focus on results is.

Management of the school system

As the study by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research emphasizes, the transfer of the market mechanisms that seem to dominate almost everything to the school system is the biggest problem. The performance comparison, initially only intended as an incentive and feedback, in combination with the great pressure to perform, has an enormous effect on society as a whole. Even at a young age, our school system produces winners and losers, the free development of one's own abilities and the independent motivation to learn independently seems to be a thing of the past more and more.

Should standardized tests be abolished again? Will Germany not be left behind by other countries without the pressure to perform this creates? In Germany in particular, standardized tests also have their advantages, so researchers found that they can reduce the effect of origin on the school career, which is known to be very high in Germany. The objective and impersonal evaluation of the standardized tests is of particular benefit to children from non-academic households and ensures more equality in our school system. In a country where origin has an enormously high impact on children's education, this finding should not be underestimated. However, standardized performance tests should also be perceived as such and not serve as a substitute for assessing the entire school system. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that education is more than ticking the right boxes or guessing what the examiners are likely to want to see.


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