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December Public Forum Topic Analysis – Standardized Testing

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2015 December Public Forum Topic Area: Educational Testing

Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.

Hello I’m Nikko and in this video we’ll be going over the December 2015 Public Forum Debate Resolution. Let’s get right to it. The resolution this month is Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.

The first part of the resolution you will notice is the words “On Balance.” Don’t let this little phrase confuse you. This is generally used as a framework or resolution analysis argument to say that we should weigh the costs and the benefits of, in this instance standardized testing.

The next very important part of the resolution is standardized testing. This can be defined in several ways, however most definitions contain the idea that the testing procedure is standardized or the same for everyone. Everyone gets the same questions, they receive the same amount of time to take the test, every aspect of the test is identical for everyone.

The next portion that is very important not to forget are the words “beneficial to K-12 education.” This implies that we aren’t talking about how standardized testing affects the economy or politics, we’re talking about how standardized testing directly affects K-12 education. Remember every argument you make should come back to how it affects K-12 education.

And finally, make sure that you look at the last little clause in the resolution that says, “In the United States.” It’s okay to make international arguments if you relate them back to the United States, but your arguments should primarily be focused around domestic education.

Now that we have a solid understanding of the resolution, let’s into the arguments that can be presented on each side.

Major Affirmative Arguments

  • Direct Education
    • Students learn the most important and relevant information with standardized tests. Instead of being told to memorize everything, students are directed to the information that will be most useful.
    • Structure and organization are critical to the development of students. Especially at a young age and continuing throughout the high school years students need a static way to both measure their success and learn information. Standardized tests provide this ground by teaching students a solid way to learn information and then determine what they need to improve on.
    • Information is the prerequisite to critical thinking. I may have the greatest analytical mind in the world, but going into a debate that I know nothing about or trying to calculate the time it will take to drive to Canada with no mathematical knowledge will ultimately lead to failure. Standardized tests verify that you are learning the basics of every subject before moving on to a deeper level of thinking.
    • I think a lot of people will attack these arguments by saying, things like, “Well standardized testing doesn’t help with creativity, leadership, etc.” Remember that these aren’t reasons why standardized testing is bad, just reasons that standardized testing is the ultimate solution to everything. For example I could make the argument that debate doesn’t teach kids how to build a house. That’s not a reason why debate is bad.
  • Indirect Education
    • Standardized tests are very low cost compared to other methods of evaluation. Someone can run an entire class worth’s of bubble sheets through a computer and within seconds have the results. If the education sector went with essays or creative evaluations, they may take 10-15 minutes per student to grade. If the teacher grades that’s hours taken away from class preparation and if they had professionals grade the papers that will take a large portion of the schools budget.
    • Standardized tests teach students a universal and simplistic way to learn information. Once you study for a standardized test year after year you start to pick up on some habits for learning information. Then when you go into a job setting and they say you’re going to need to know the following information off the top of your head. You can sit down and learn it using the same studying habits you’ve already established.
    • Standardized testing creates internal competition which drives students to be better. A lot of students are competition motivated. Standardized testing can show them which quartile they’re in and help motivate them to learn more and do better. If you can prove that there’s a bigger incentive for students to learn that’s a great benefit to education.
  • Fairness
    • These kinds of tests are the most objective. When someone is grading an essay or piece of art there will be bias involved; it’s inevitable. One grader is going to like someone’s writing style better or hate the side of the topic that another student decided to write about. The only way to reduce that bias is to take the individual out of the puzzle. Once you do that you have the traditional multiple choice standardized test.
    • Remember that everything needs to brought back to education. Saying something is more fair isn’t a reason to vote Aff. Saying that a test is more objective which leads to a better understanding of where a student needs to improve or which students to give special help to could be a reason that education is benefitted. Remember, everything comes back to education.
    • Standardized testing allows for more consistent learning. Without a clear mechanism to measure the students on each year there will be bigger breaks in the information learned. These tests are a guideline as to what students need to be taught and forces teachers despite what they may think to not stray away from these concepts. This ensures that students are being taught the same regardless of what district or city they reside or even what teacher they get. The tests are there to make sure that everyone’s learning what they should be so that their lack of knowledge in a certain area doesn’t come back to bite them.
  • Workarounds
    • The Affirmative only has to defend that standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education. Don’t let the negative force you into defending that it is the absolute best system.
    • Another argument the Affirmative can make is that the Negative has to defend that an education system without standardized testing would be more beneficial than a system with standardized tests. This argument would hinge on the Affirmatives ability to debate framework and establish reasons why the Negative shouldn’t be able to propose alternatives.
    • If you don’t want to force the negative into a corner without alternatives you can always adopt or in debate lingo, “perm” the alternatives. If standardized tests and the Negative’s alternatives aren’t mutually exclusive there’s no reason to vote the Affirmative down. For example, if I said, “ordering pizza would benefit this party” and someone else replied by saying, “actually getting ice cream would benefit this party more.” That’s not a reason why ordering pizza is bad, it’s just another thing that could be done as an addition.

Major Negative Arguments

  • Direct Education
    • Depending on the study, students spend hours upon hours taking tests each year. All of that time is time that could be spent learning the subject better instead of stressing students out. If you’re going to run an argument like this make sure that you don’t contradict yourself by saying that alternative tests are better. One would assume that regardless of the alternative you choose it will take hours to complete.
    • Another argument that you will hear quite frequently is that standardized testing encourages teachers to teach to the test. If teachers are evaluated based upon the results of these standardized tests and they know the questions that will be appearing it creates an incentive for educators to teach that information exclusively and leave out important information that might not be on these tests, but is still very important to learn.
    • Standardized tests are infamous for their ability to teach kids how to regurgitate information. Students are taught that you can memorize information temporarily, ace the test, and forget everything the very next day. With food regurgitation none of the nutrients are absorbed, with educational regurgitation none of the knowledge is stored.
    • Another common argument is that standardized testing has a very narrow lense of information it tests for and thus pushes out other characteristics that matter. Some of these include critical thinking, leadership, integrity, social skills, and so on. If you’re running this make sure you phrase it in a way that makes it sound like standardized testing is forcing these skills out of school instead of standardized testing not helping or hurting these skills.
    • If you’ve ever read an ACT or SAT prep book you know the importance of learning how to guess correctly. Some may argue that standardized testing isn’t really an effective measurement on the progress of one’s education and even more so that it encourages students not to learn the information, but to learn how to guess.
  • Real World Effects


    • The first real world argument you’ve probably either heard about or experienced yourself, is that standardized testing puts an immense amount of stress on the students. They are told that this test defines their future. That regardless of how well you’ve done on all other projects or quizzes in the past it all comes down to this one multi hour test. This will tell you how intelligent you and everyone else how intelligent you are. That’s a lot of stress to be placing on a student regardless of their age.
    • Another argument that strongly relates to the last is that standardized testing encourages cheating the system. When you have so much riding on a test both from a teacher or student perspective your incentive to cheat the system is incredibly high. This could lead to students not studying because they intend to cheat off of their neighbor, teachers helping to game the system, and the list goes on.
    • You might also see people that say that standardized testing teaches students there are only right and wrong answers. That not only destroys education, but also that child’s perspective of the world. In fact you’ll probably see a couple cases built around the idea that standardized testing teaches students bad lessons in general.
  • Discrimination
    • Arguments that address the students that are left out as a result of standardized testing will be seen very regularly. The first of course being the creative thinkers. Regardless of how good you are at art or creative writing if you want to get into a good college they will look at your test scores. So not only do these test scores demean the students, but your ability to fill out bubbles can destroy your artistic future. This also enforces the idea that the creative skills that these students possess don’t matter.
    • The next category which I can personally relate to is the overthinkers and analytical minds. Most everyone has heard the phrase “go with your gut” in reference to standardized tests. That’s because students will talk themselves out of the correct answer. For example in my mind when I hear a true or false question that says “No mammals lay eggs.” My brain defaults to thinking of all the potential mammals that could lay eggs. Platypus are mammals and they lay eggs, but did the test maker take that into account? Standardized testing disables students with this type of advanced or simply different thinking pattern.
    • Standardized testing also leaves out those with learning disabilities, students that have english as a second language, or anyone else that could possibly struggle with the way the tests are constructed. You have to remember in most instances students aren’t allowed to ask questions during the test. If you don’t understand the way a question is phrased you can’t ask questions, it’s either all the way right or all the way wrong.
    • Standardized tests are standard. They are a one size fits all for individuals that are extremely different. Once again I want to reiterate, that if you’re running these arguments please please please make sure to relate them back as to how they affect a student’s education. If you stop your analysis at, “these tests are bad or unfair” you will not be maximizing your arguments.
  • Workarounds
    • Alternatives
    • The first workaround  that you can run is the vast amount of alternatives to standardized testing that exist. This could be evaluating schools and teachers on graduation rates, workforce outcomes, or general attitude from the students. Some suggest social and emotional skills tests, game tests, or just random inspections from administrators. The idea is either that the Affirmative thinks that evaluating students and putting some quantifiable number on their head is beneficial to their education. If you can find a better method of evaluating each student then you have a great shot at winning. Most Affirmative teams will say that alternatives aren’t referred to in the resolution, so it’s either these tests hurt or help education. If you decide to run alternatives it will be critical to explain to the judge why they should vote the Affirmative team down if there are better alternatives.
    • Another way you can ease the resolution in your favor is by making sure the judge knows that the burden of proof is on the Affirmative. The resolution very clearly states that standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education. If you cannot say without a doubt that it’s beneficial then you vote negative. This is a tactic that you shouldn’t rely on, but that can pick you up a few indecisive lay judge ballots if you mention it.
    • Along these Affirmative burden lines, you will also want to say that it’s not enough for the Affirmative to prove that these tests are objective or fair, make sure they understand that the Affirmative has the burden of increasing the wealth of education for these students.
    • The last work around that you can use is to push any of their benefits off on another characteristic of the education system. What I mean by that is anytime they say, “These tests ensure that everyone is learning the same material.” You as the negative can stand up and say, “Actually it’s the common core that’s taking care of that issue.” This is a great generic block to a lot of the arguments the Affirmative can run.

Final Tips

  1. The first tip I can give you on this topic is to know your studies backwards and forwards. Know the methodology, the date, the author, and prepare to be challenged on your sources. There are so many conflicting studies on this topic because they were done in different states, with a different amount of students, and so on. Please know the studies you’re running.
  2. Focus on the topic. I know I sound like a broken record, but make sure all of your impacts directly relate back to the effects on K-12 education.
  3. Show causation not correlation. Simple enough.
  4. Ignore the polls. There are so many polls out there that say 80% of teachers hate standardized testing or 60% of students think that standardized testing is good. Going back to the resolution those polls do not show that K-12 education is increasing. It’s like saying that 75% of debaters prefer PC’s over Macs. That doesn’t prove that PC’s are better, it just shows what most people prefer. I would save the space in your case to add content that matters and if your opponents decide to run polls then by all means run counter polls and say that it’s really not a voting matter though.

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Featured Image courtesy of  Alberto G. Create Commons License

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