Perspective | My third-grader thought she had failed her state standardized test (2023)



An earlier version of this post gave the incorrect name of the Florida Standards Assessments test. The post has been updated.

On a bright, spring afternoon, one of my 8-year-old twins dragged her feet over the school’s sidewalk toward my car. She caught my eye and began to wail before even making it to the vehicle.

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“I failed my FSA, Mom,” she cried. “My teacher thinks I failed it.”

The Florida Standards Assessments test is our state’s version of the nationally required standardized testing in reading and math. Students take the tests every year starting in the third grade.

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This test is the sole factorthat determines whether a child can move on to the fourth grade. It’s the only thing that matters in determining a fourth-grader from a third-grader.

My girls are straight-A students. If one of them received a 1 out of a possible 5 on her state test, she would stay back, while the other advanced. And what had she done so horribly? She misread an unclear directive and was too scared to raise her hand for clarification, because the test instructed students not to raise their hands for any reason. In all capital letters. She was terrified of having her test invalidated.


She came across questions that said:

“Write the correct answer on the line, then fill in the bubble before the correct word or phrase.”

So she wrote the correct answer on the line, and filled in the bubble above that answer on the sheet. If the correct answer was B, she wrote down B on the line and bubbled in A because A comes before B.

“It didn’t seem right to me, mama, but it said in all capital letters ‘DON’T RAISE YOUR HAND FOR ANY REASON’ so I didn’t.”

As it turned out, her twin sister had the same problem — the difference being that she had ignored the instructions and raised her hand for clarification. Then she went back, erased all her bubbles and filled the right ones in.

The kids had been practicing FSA problems for months. Hours of their school days had been devoted to the task. When my girls came home, we worked on more of the same for their homework. The assignments piled up: Scan-Tron question, after Scan-Tron question, after Scan-Tron question. Suffice to say, the girls were prepared for this test, if nothing else. This was all just a terrible misunderstanding.


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Of course, there was no way to tell if my child actually had failed the FSA. Those tests are sealed and sent as soon as they leave the child’s hand. The only reason we even had a clue was because my daughter’s teacher happened to notice her answers didn’t match her bubbles as she skimmed over the completed sheets.

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So, I was stuck with an A student who was sure she would fail the third grade, a principal who was very sorry about the mix-up but insisted his hands were tied and a state-level test maker (AIR)that ignored my calls. I wanted the wording changed on future iterations of this test. I don’t think using the terms “next to” or “in front of” is too much to ask.

What I also wanted, of course, was a real live person to look over my kid’s test to see if her comprehension score was impacted by her literal understanding of a pretty poorly phrased instruction. But I couldn’t disrupt the standardized machine once it was in assembly-line motion. If one kid got treated differently, it would invalidate the entire school’s exams. These tests are supposed to be as consistent and standardized as possible, hence the name. No treating children like special snowflakes. No treating children like people with different traits and characteristics. No allowing for humanity to seep in.


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These tests don’t help our students gain a greater understanding of their school subjects. They don’t enhance learning, or provide context and well-rounded nuanced thought processes. Instead, they create an environment of surface learning: understanding phrasing, looking for a few key words, bubbling quickly, taking in the patterning of the test itself. That’s what my kids practiced all year.

The school board assured me that my child probably wouldn’t have to repeat third grade. She had many options at her disposal — including passing all 40 English Language Arts Standards(ELA), going to summer school or taking another standardized test in the late summer. Since no one knew when we’d get the results back, my child had to start an intensive ELA reading regimen. Each day she would arrive at school and tackle several reading packets while her classmates worked on other assignments. To pass, she had to get a 75 percent or higher on each skill. This means if she answered three out of the first four questions correctly, she could move on. If she got two wrong, however, she’d have to answer the next six correctly, and on up it went. Excluded from science projects and social studies packets, my kid became a reading machine, working on those comprehension objectives, racing the clock to finish all 40 in 40 days.

She dutifully set to work each morning, although she complained about not getting to participate inthe fun projects her classmates did for the end of the year. She felt alone, as one of the only students filling out these packets. My heart ached for her because I was positive her comprehension was just fine.


Sure enough, a week or so before school let out for the summer those FSA scores came back. My daughter got a 3. Misreading the instructions cost her just one point out of the five, and she passed.

My little third-grader had spent days crying over this. She spent weeks doing extra reading and bubbling in Scan-Tron forms, while watching her peers complete artsier projects. I spent hours on the phone and in meetings with the principal and the school board and the teacher, trying to get to the bottom of it all.

And for what? For a grade well within passing range.

The better question is why. Why are we forcing our students to learn how to test? Why are we causing them stress and anxiety over performances on two days’ worth of exams? Why are our teachers forced to take hours every school day to teach kids how to properly answer standardized questions, in place of actually guiding them through understanding the objectives in a real world context? What are we proving?


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This year, Florida ranked 11thnationally for K-12 achievement. In terms of financing, it ranked 45thout of 50. So we’ve done it. We’ve proved our kids can spit out the rote answers and ace our arbitrary markers of achievement. And yet we still aren’t funding their education. Maybe it’s time we give our future our money instead of our assessments. Maybe it’s time we invest in our public schools, rather than in automated tests.

Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to On Parenting. She blogs at Parentwin and can be reached on Twitter @parentwin.

Follow On Parenting on Facebookfor more essays, news and updates. You can sign up herefor our weekly newsletter.

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(Video) Standardized Testing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)


Why standardized testing is bad for elementary students? ›

Standardized tests ignore developmental and experiential differences among individuals. Especially relevant are differences in the ability to engage in logical or reasoned thinking. Research shows there may be three different levels of capability for logical thinking at most grade levels.

What are the biggest problems about standardized testing? ›

Standardized tests scores are not predictors of future success. Standardized tests can only, at best, evaluate rote knowledge of math, science, and English. The tests do not evaluate creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, artistic ability, or other knowledge areas that cannot be judged…

What are 3 important points to remember when giving a standardized test? ›

During the Test
  • Read all test directions carefully. ...
  • Read each test question carefully and thoroughly. ...
  • Time management is key. ...
  • Consider all answer choices before selecting your final answer. ...
  • Eliminate any answers that you know are incorrect. ...
  • Answer the easiest questions first.

How does standardized testing affect students? ›

Standardized testing inevitably impacts students' lives and experiences in many ways. Testing can help students feel empowered and do their best. It can also cause stress, anxiety, and competition. Teachers can help make tests a more positive experience by downplaying the stressful elements.

What are the negative effects of standardized testing? ›

Teachers have also expressed that not only is standardized testing getting in the way of their teaching, but it has negative effects on their students such as poor self-confidence in low- scoring students, taking away student creativity, lowers student motivation, and test anxiety (Mulvenon, et al, 2005).

What are 2 disadvantages of standardized testing? ›

Some of the cons of standardized testing include the fact that standardized tests are unable to assess a student's higher-level thinking skills, teachers may alter their curriculum in order to "teach to the test," and standardized tests have been shown to result in inequitable outcomes for students.

How do you solve standardized testing problems? ›

Instead of using standardized tests, these alternative methods have evolved that can take their place:
  1. Multiple measures. ...
  2. Portfolios. ...
  3. Sampling. ...
  4. Game-based assessment. ...
  5. Social and emotional skills surveys. ...
  6. Inspections. ...
  7. Low-stakes testing.

What mental health issues are caused by standardized testing? ›

This can cause many mental issues as students are studying for long periods of time and stressing about a test. According to, “Standardized testing causes headaches, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, stress and attendance issues”. Standardized testing is also, in some cases, ineffective.

What is the most common answer on standardized tests? ›

In true-false tests, true (T) answers are more common than false (F): according to Poundstone's analysis, on an average, 56% answers are T and 44% F. It's not hard to see why.

What is the main goal for standardized tests? ›

Standardized tests are used to evaluate the effectiveness of an education program. Besides being useful in assessing student performance, they are also a means to evaluate the curriculum. Principals and teachers can see where their students are doing well, and determine what areas need improvement.

Why are students stressed from standardized testing? ›

That's because standardized tests have a major blind spot, the researchers asserted: The exams fail to capture the “soft skills” that reflect a student's ability to develop good study habits, take academic risks, and persist through challenges, for example.

How do teachers feel about state testing? ›

Teachers have expressed frustration about the time it takes to prepare for and administer tests. Teachers may feel excessive pressure from their schools and administrators to improve their standardized test scores. Standardized tests measure achievement against goals rather than measuring progress.

How is standardized testing unfair to poor students? ›

For decades, critics have complained that many standardized tests are unfair because the questions require a set of knowledge and skills more likely to be possessed by children from privileged backgrounds''(p. 3).

What are pros and cons about standardized testing children? ›

PRO: They help teachers to identify areas for improvement. CON: Standardized tests cause stress and anxiety for children. PRO: They help keep schools accountable to policymakers. CON: Teachers 'teach to the test' which leads to the lower-quality rote learning method of teaching.

Is standardized testing good or bad for students? ›

Ideally, standardized exams assist in defining bigger academic standards for schools across states and the nation. By measuring student achievement, standardized exams can also inform educational policies.

What are the positive effects of standardized testing on students? ›

It Shows Analytical Progress

In addition to comparing students against one another or identifying problematic schools or districts, standardized tests can also illustrate student progress over time. Taking the same or similar tests over the years can allow students to indicate measurable improvement.

What are the two most important characteristics of a standardized test? ›

Validity − The test has to be devised to measure what it claims to measure in order to be held as valid and usable. Reliability − This refers to the consistency of scores obtainedby an individual on the same test on two different occasions.

What are the benefits of testing? ›

1.1. Direct and Indirect Effects of Testing
Benefit 1The testing effect: retrieval aids later retention
Benefit 2Testing identifies gaps in knowledge
Benefit 3Testing causes students to learn more from the next learning episode
Benefit 4Testing produces better organization of knowledge
6 more rows

What is one problem with using standardized achievement tests? ›

Unfortunately, both parents and educators often ascribe far too much precision and accuracy to students' scores on standardized achievement tests. Several factors might cause scores to flop about. Merely because these test scores are reported in numbers (sometimes even with decimals!)

Why do people dislike standardized testing? ›

Standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience and human learning to a number or set of numbers. This is dehumanizing. A student may have a deep knowledge of a particular subject, but receive no acknowledgement for it because his or her test score may have been low.

Why do people not like standardized tests? ›

Standardized tests don't value diversity. There are a wide range of differences in the people who take standardized tests: they have different cultural backgrounds, different levels of proficiency in the English language, different learning and thinking styles, different family backgrounds, different past experiences.

What are four strategies you should follow while taking a standardized test? ›

9 Helpful Standardized Testing Tips
  • Read through the full question carefully. ...
  • Answer the Easiest Questions First. ...
  • Answer the Question BEFORE Reading the Answers Provided. ...
  • Eliminate the Obviously Wrong Choices. ...
  • Consider ALL The Answer Choices Before Marking Your Final Answer. ...
  • Carefully Read Those Passage Introductions.
Jan 17, 2023

What is the best way to study for a standardized test? ›

  1. Take practice tests. ...
  2. Promote a positive attitude. ...
  3. Discuss what to do if you finish early. ...
  4. Eat well, exercise and rest. ...
  5. Plan enjoyable and relaxing activities.

What are examples of test standardization? ›

Standardized tests are often used to select students for specific programs. For example, the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and ACT (American College Test) are norm referenced tests used to help determine if high school students are admitted to selective colleges.

How do standardized tests affect students and their stress level? ›

Children are affected by standardized testing, with some seeing their cortisol levels spike on testing days, and others seeing it drop, which might lead them to disengage. Boys' cortisol levels were more affected by standardized tests than girls'.

How many people think standardized testing is bad? ›

According to the 2015 PDK/Gallup Survey of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 64 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of public school parents) say there is "too much emphasis on testing." Only 14 percent rated standardized testing as a "very important " factor in measuring school effectiveness, and 55 ...

Which state has the hardest standardized test? ›

New York tops list of states with most difficult tests.

What is the best letter to guess on a test? ›

C or H are right (and wrong) as often as any other answer choice. The only guess letter you don't want to use when you are completely guessing is E or K because they only show up on the math test.

What is the most difficult standardized test in us? ›

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

Owned and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), GRE is among the world's most difficult exams. The exam is administered both online and in person. As a standardized test, GRE measures the overall academic readiness of students who want to attend graduate school.

Do parents like standardized testing? ›

Overall Stress and Anxiety

In response to the survey item "The standardized testing program is stressful for my child," only 24% responded that it is significantly or extremely stressful. In fact, 22% of the parents reported that it was not at all stressful for their children.

Does reading help with standardized tests? ›

Reading helps students become critical thinkers.

They're having fun! Students who have fun while they read critically are not only more likely to become readers, they will also comprehend stories on a deeper level. In turn, this helps them correctly answer higher-level-thinking questions on the state test.

How do you overcome standardized test anxiety? ›

  1. Learn how to study efficiently. ...
  2. Study early and in similar places. ...
  3. Establish a consistent pretest routine. ...
  4. Talk to your teacher. ...
  5. Learn relaxation techniques. ...
  6. Don't forget to eat and drink. ...
  7. Get some exercise. ...
  8. Get plenty of sleep.

What are the 3 types of standardized tests? ›

16.2: Types of standardized tests
  • Achievement tests.
  • Diagnostic tests.
  • Aptitude tests.
  • High-stakes testing by states.
Feb 27, 2021

Why is state testing important? ›

State test results are used to make improvements in teaching and learning. Parents, students, and educators use the results to: Follow student progress. Identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction.

What is the argument for standardized testing? ›

With exams created and given by an independent organization, standardized test scores are useful because they come from a neutral source and give us data that we can compare to other independent schools across the United States and with other international schools across the globe.

Why standardized testing hurts students? ›

If a student performs poorly on a standardized test, they can face increased pressure from their parents and peers to do better and be “smarter.” This can lead to students resenting learning and believing that they are worse than everyone else because of their low score.

Does anxiety affect test scores? ›

Test anxiety is most widely recognized cognitive issue affecting students' academic achievement scores. It can influence students', sense of pride, companion connections and social practices (Costello, Mustillo, Erkanli, Keeler, & Angold, 2003).

How many students have anxiety from standardized testing? ›

Approximately 25–40% of US students suffer from test anxiety.

What are the cons of state testing? ›

Inflexibility. Students who excel in classroom settings may not perform well on tests due to anxiety, unfamiliarity with the test format, family matters, health issues, language barriers, or other common conditions.

Why do poor students do worse in school? ›

Students living in poverty often have fewer resources at home to complete homework, study, or engage in activities that helps equip them for success during the school day.

How do standardized tests put certain students at a disadvantage? ›

Standardized Tests: Disadvantages
  1. Standardized test items are not parallel with typical classroom skills and behaviors. ...
  2. Since general knowledge is assessed, educators cannot use standardized test results to inform their individual instruction methods. ...
  3. Standardized test items do not assess higher-level thinking skills.
May 29, 2022

Why teachers shouldn t give kids standardized tests when school starts? ›

Because they rely on machine-scored, multiple-choice or short-answer test questions, they do not provide insights into children's thinking. They have not been built, as are more fine-grained diagnostic assessments, to identify students' misconceptions.

Why standardized testing is unfair for students with learning disabilities? ›

Students often do not receive services during test time because teachers are supervising the testing. Other barriers to success include lack of access to accommodations that are sometimes helpful. These include extra time, text-to-speech tools and Braille (see more below).

Why standardized tests are unreliable? ›

There are many factors that can impact a student's test score negatively, including stress, lack of language skills, and lack of special needs accommodations. Additionally, standardized tests do not test every field of education, making them all the more inaccurate.

Does standardized testing help or hurt students? ›

Standardized exams can show student improvement over time by taking the same tests over time. In addition, student test scores can also be easily compared to each other to show changes in progress. Ensure that all educational stakeholders are held accountable.

What are some things that teachers can do to deal with the problems of standardized tests? ›

Here are seven helpful tips:
  • Prioritize classroom preparation efforts. ...
  • Ask students where their fear is coming from. ...
  • Keep things in perspective. ...
  • Empower students with simple strategies to reduce anxiety. ...
  • Teach effective test-taking strategies. ...
  • Help students create a study schedule. ...
  • Focus on the positives.
Jan 21, 2022

Are standardized tests fair to all students? ›

It Is Fair

It's a single test, taken under equal conditions, to measure student achievement fairly. By this logic, standardized test scores from the SAT and ACT are some of the only aspects of a student's academic performance that aren't determined by their town or school.

What is considered a learning disability? ›

Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the ability to: Understand or use spoken or written language. Do mathematical calculations. Coordinate movements. Direct attention.

How is standardized testing unfair? ›

Many believe that scores serve as indicators of future success, but standardized tests fail to assess students in crucial areas such as creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and artistic ability.

Do standardized test scores reflect intelligence? ›

Standardized tests are used to assess a student's intelligence; nevertheless, one's IQ should not be assessed solely by their test scores. A low test result can be caused by various circumstances, one of which is testing anxiety. Even the brightest students become anxious when they have to take a test.


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