Standardized exams are becoming much more omnipresent in the lives of American schoolchildren.
Being exposed to an endless parade of multiple choice exams causes students to stress about reading and re-reading material. Rote memorization in service of correctly filling in Scantron bubbles often comes at the expense of actually applying the knowledge. Understanding why something is true isn't the same as simply just knowing that it is.
This leads to a considerable amount of stress not just for the students who are tested in such an arbitrary way, but also for their teachers, whose paychecks and jobs can depend on these scores.
With such high and unfair stakes for educators, it becomes difficult not to spend an undue amount of time preparing for these exams, potentially to the detriment of more creative and organic learning.
Yes, standardized testing is an easy way to assign grades to a large number of people in a very black-and-white fashion, but that isn't how science — or any other subject — works in the real world. True understanding of material allows for creative ways of thinking about a problem and manipulating it. Far from black-and-white, true innovation comes from exploring the shades of grey. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to assess one's ability to think in this fashion. How do you assign a letter to creative thinking?
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss recently appeared in a Big Think video exploring this very concept, lamenting how limiting standardized testing can be.
"Testing always inevitably means you teach students to be able to do tests," Krauss explained in the video. "And I've seen it at all levels, including, by the way, at graduate school. We have many grad students […] who are excellent at taking physics tests, but when they want to become researchers — just being able to regurgitate information is not what makes you a creative researcher."
Yes, scientists do know the basic facts, like what would be found on a standardized test, but it's the way they use them to stretch the boundaries of human knowledge that truly ends up changing the world.