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Are the standardized tests good measure of academic ability or progress?


Have we ever wondered the reason behind the lack of world class research or a Nobel Laureate from India in spite of highly competitive standardized tests? Have we ever given a thought as to why the top scorers of our country are unable to make a difference in the society?

Since centuries, such questions have remained highly controversial as different sections of society have diverse perspectives pertaining to this issue. There is no clarity when such queries are encountered and this necessitates a heated debate involving the battling minds of the most eminent educationists. By the end of this article, every reader would find their own choice to this question, in a way that suits best to their interest.

Standardized testing has eventually become an integral part of admission procedures across universities around the world and has proven to be the key factor in determining the earning capacity of an individual. More emphasis on test scores may locate productive employees but definitely hampers entrepreneurial capability. Consequently, this has lead to the problem of high unemployment and urges the proposition of reforms to curb this menace. At the system level, to one side are the standard-lovers and test-addicts represented by the so-called education reformers. Western developed countries such as the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand, have a relatively decentralized education. Although these countries have generally performed well economically, they have not held good rankings in international competitions.

In stark contrast are the veterans of comprehensive education and testing, represented by the East Asian education systems such as China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, which have a long tradition of fairly centralized education. These countries have evolved into new economic powerhouses and have consistently held top places on the international test score league tables. They have begun to travel down a different path with less emphasis on test scores, broader curriculum, more autonomy for schools and wider choices to students.

Standardized tests do perform a valuable function too, by measuring the level of competence and minimum academic standards. But, students have misinterpreted its objective and have developed a single minded pursuit, by regarding it as a means of gaining marks and not knowledge. This has given a drive to unhealthy competitions with all effort wasted, in just running the race without any goals. As a result, high stress levels are developed leading to loss of productivity.

As students confine themselves only to the achievement of high scores, the necessity of integrated development is ignored. There is need of evolution of standardized tests to include more subjective matter and capture the overall development of students. Emphasis on sports and other inter-disciplinary courses ought to be promoted which encourages individuals to discover their interests. This calls for an increased awareness among parents to promote more holistic development rather than following success in standardized tests as a marker for achievement. Involvement of good teachers to increase performance and make the learning experience attractive for the younger generation is essential.

The introduction of Comprehensive Continuous Evaluation pattern by CBSE is an excellent concept that has promoted activity based learning. It has improved the student's performance by identifying their learning difficulties at regular intervals, right from the beginning of the academic session and employing suitable remedial measures for enhancing their learning performance. It has also recognized and encouraged specific abilities of students, who do not excel in academics but perform well in other co-curricular areas.

Hence, I would conclude by saying that examinations are definitely a necessary evil and a little bit of evolution could change it to something more significant. This would extract the best out of individuals and ignite a spark to the latent potential inside every being.

- Neha P Asrani