If it were up to me, I would ban the use of standardized tests in education except for the purpose of psychological evaluation. These tests are not designed for the evaluation of school compared to school or even individual student progress. Their use for such is professional malpractice.
This then, leads to the question, why do we misuse them? The answer I think, lies in the fact that very few people have any understanding of exactly what a standardized test is. Unless you are a trained educator, and unless you are an educator particularly trained in the use of tests and measurements, it is unlikely that you have even the vaguest notion of what the term means.
Most people assume that the word standardized means that the test has been made standard. That is to say, that it is the same test given to all the children so that the results will be the same matter where the test is given across the country. This is not what it means. A standardized test is a test which has been carefully designed to create a particular statistical distribution of all the people who take that test. The results must be a bell shaped curve and only a bell shaped curve. Any other distribution of results means that the test is flawed and inaccurate. It is not properly standardized and its results are not reliable.
This means that if we accept standardized testing as the methodology by which we judge how well our schools, teachers, and students are performing, certain statistical consequences are inevitable. Standardized tests will always, let me emphasize ALWAYS result in 25% of our schools being rated excellent, 25% of our schools being rated substandard, and 50% of our schools being judged as falling in between those two extremes.
This means that if American teachers, parents, and students do a miraculous job of teaching and of learning so that all American fourth-graders were reading at a 12th grade level, the standardized test results for that year would show that 25% of those gifted fourth-graders would be reading at an excellent level, 25% of those gifted fourth-graders would be reading below an acceptable level, and 50% of those gifted fourth-graders would fall in between those two extremes.
But if fourth-graders are actually reading the 12th grade level, and if the tests are fair, 100% of those fourth-graders should be shown as reading at an excellent level. Well, not if you're taking a standardized test. A standardized test always places 25% of test takers in the substandard category, 25% of the test takers in the exceptional category, and the other 50% of test takers as falling in between those extremes. That's what makes it "standardized".
Now let's take a look at the opposite possibility. American teachers, apparently crazed by union membership, decide to do nothing at all in class all year long. American kids, being incredibly lazy, spend all their time in class sleeping. And American parents, not caring about their kids' education, don't do anything about it. Things are so bad that not a single American fourth-grader can recognize all the letters of the alphabet. What would the standardized test results for that year show?
That's right! You got it! The standardized test results for that year would show that 25% of those ignorant fourth-graders would be reading at an excellent level, 25% of those ignorant fourth-graders would be reading below an acceptable level, and 50% of of those ignorant fourth-graders would fall in between those two extremes.
Exactly the same results that we would get if all students suddenly turned into super geniuses. If this sounds crazy to you, then you don't understand how standardized tests work. The entire purpose of a standardized test is to compare where a person places on a bell shaped curve. In terms that Americans unfamiliar with statistics, tests, and measurement might better understand, it's grading on the curve gone insane.
Standardized tests are very useful under certain circumstances. For example, in evaluating where a person falls in the range of intelligence or some other specific trait. However, they are 100% totally ineffective and inaccurate for judging how well a teacher is teaching, how well a student is learning, or how well a school is performing.
I repeat: These tests are not designed for the evaluation of school compared to school or even individual student progress. Their use for such is professional malpractice.
But this still leaves the question unanswered, why do we misuse the tests in this manner? It isn't surprising that average Americans don't know much about standardized tests. Why should they? This is specific expert knowledge. But mathematicians, psychologists, psychometrists, teachers trained in tests and measurements, and many others do know these facts. So why aren't they speaking up and questioning the way in which these tests are being misused?
I don't know. It simply makes no sense to me. They know this is true. They've been taught this is true. So why are they silent? I still don't know. You'll have to ask them.