Assessment, Curriculum, Leadership, Opinion

What is the Value of Standardized Testing?

(128.00 kB / pdf)


Standardized testing is a contentious issue in Canada, and internationally. Education in Canada falls within provincial jurisdiction and every province and territory develops its own curricula. Additionally, every province/territory conducts large-scale assessments at specific grade levels. Provinces and territories also participate at the national level in the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) and at the international level in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

There is a large body of literature about these large-scale standardized tests with no consensus on their effectiveness. However, while there is some support for standardized testing, overwhelmingly, research suggests that it does not lead to improved educational outcomes for students.

Arguments against standardized testing include:

  • There is a tendency to “teach to the test”, which results in narrowing of the curriculum.
  • The tests do not allow for linguistic or other cultural differences among students.
  • There is the potential for subgroups of students to become lost within the overall numbers.
  • Standardized testing leads to student disengagement.
  • The tests do not adequately assess 21st Century skills such as creativity, technological ability, problem solving, or critical thinking skills. 

Arguments in favour of standardized testing include:

  • The opportunity for comparison of educational outcomes across schools, provinces, or countries.
  • Results of standardized tests provide an opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
  • Offering a means to assess accountability.
  • Provincial assessments provide a way to evaluate curricula and determine which schools/districts/regions are meeting goals.

Even proponents of standardized testing recognize the limitations of wide scale comparison due to the differences between countries, provinces, and even school districts. Some countries with the longest history of standardized testing recognize these limitations and their reliance on standardized testing is declining. In Canada, some provinces, such as Alberta and Ontario, have recognized the importance of adapting standardized testing to suit varying circumstances and to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

Methods such as problem based learning are at the forefront of curriculum design yet are not evaluated in standardized tests. Standardized testing is, therefore, counterproductive as it focuses on memory and knowledge acquisition rather than ability to apply learning. Educators and students should be provided with assessment tools to identify issues and gaps for individual students as well as schools and/or school districts, improve learning, increase capacity to be independent learners, promote goal-setting, and encourage reflection on learning. A balanced approach to student assessment includes standardized testing coupled with rigourous classroom assessment.


Aydeniz, M., & Southerland, S. A. (2012). A national survey of middle and high school science teachers’ responses to standardized testing: Is science being devalued in schools? Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(3), 233-257.

Azzam, A. M. (2009). Why creativity now? A conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 22-26.


Barrier-Ferreira, J. (2008). Producing commodities or educating children? Nurturing the personal growth of students in the face of standardized testing. Clearing House, 81(3), 138-140.


Bower, J. (2013). Telling time with a broken clock: The trouble with standardized testing. Education Canada, 53(3), 24-27.


Camacho, D., & Cook, V. (2007). Standardized testing: Does it measure student preparation for college & work? Online Submission, Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED495251


Government of Alberta. (2013). Student learning assessments update. (Information Bulletin). Edmonton, AB: Author.


Government of Ontario. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools. Toronto, ON: Government of Ontario.

Haladyna, T. M. (2006). Perils of standardized achievement testing. Educational Horizons, 85(1), 30-43.


Harris, P., Smith, B. M., & Harris, J. (2011). The myths of standardized tests: Why they don’t tell you what you think they do? Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


Hayden, M. J. (2011). Standardized quantitative learning assessments and high stakes testing: Throwing learning down the assessment drain. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 177-185.


Hewson, K., & Parsons, J. (2013). The children in the numbers: Why aggregate achievement goals miss the mark. Education Canada, 53(3), 9-11.


Ickes-Dunbar, A. (2005). Testing, testing. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 3-9.


Kearns, L. (2011). High-stakes standardized testing & marginalized youth: An examination of the impact on those who fail. Canadian Journal of Education, 34(2), 112-130.


Klinger, D. A., DeLuca, C., & Miller, T. (2008). The evolving culture of large-scale assessments in Canadian education. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 76, 1-34.


Mora, R. (2011). “School is so boring”: High-stakes testing and boredom at an urban middle school. Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 9(1), 1-9.


Morris, A. (2011). Student standardised testing: Current practices in OECD countries and a literature review. (OECD Education Working Papers, No. 65).OECD Publishing.

Nelson, L. P., McMahan, S. K., & Torres, T. (2012). The impact of a junior high school community intervention project: Moving beyond the testing juggernaut and into a community of creative learners. School Community Journal, 22(1), 125-144.


Ozturgut, O. (2011). Learning by example: Standardized testing in the cases of China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Academic Leadership (15337812), 9(3), 1-9.


Riffert, F. (2005). The use and misuse of standardized testing: A Whiteheadian point of view. Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education, 36(1-2), 231-252. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10780-005-2360-0


Visone, J. D. (2010). Science or reading: What is being measured by standardized tests? American Secondary Education, 39(1), 95-112.


Zwaagstra, M. (2011). Standardized testing is a good thing. (FCCP Policy Series No. 119). Winnipeg, MB: Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


Bibliography of Related Articles

Au, W., & Gourd, K. (2013). Asinine assessment: Why high-stakes testing is bad for everyone, including English teachers. English Journal, 103(1), 14-19.


Driscoll, H. (2013). Power, protest and posters. Our Schools / Our Selves, 22(3), 29-46.


Government of Manitoba. (2010). Provincial assessment policy Kindergarten to Grade 12: Academic responsibility, honesty, and promotion/retention. Winnipeg, MB: Author.


Hill, B. (2005). Learning styles and standardized test scores: Is there a connection? Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 71(3), 27-30.

Neal, M. (2012). Appreciative assessment: Inquire! Education Canada, 52(2), 6-9.


Phelps, R. P. (2006). Characteristics of an effective student testing system. Educational HORIZONS, 85(1), 19-29.


Santiago, P., Donaldson, G., Herman, J., & Shewbrdige, C. (2011). OECD reviews of evaluation and assessment in education: Australia. OECD Publishing.


Stiggins, R. (2007). Five assessment myths and their consequences. Education Week, 27(8), 28-29.



Pan-Canadian Student Assessment Program (PCAP)


Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)


The New Face of Standardized Testing in Schools – Canadian Family Magazine


People for Education’s Standardized Testing Information Page


Real Accountability or Illusion of Success? A Call to Review Standardized Testing in Ontario


Alberta Education Student Learning Assessments


Learning for All – A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12 – Ontario Ministry of Education


Meet the Expert

Valerie Campbell

Valerie Campbell is a PhD Candidate in Educational Studies, a Project Manager at the Young Lives Research Lab, and a Sessional Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Universit...

Read More