The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized: How the Evolving Test Landscape Could Effect Certification

Teacher and students taking standardized test

There is a growing grassroots movement across the United States to greatly reduce or even discontinue the use of standardized testing in K-12 schools. This movement isn't just a publicity play by a shrill minority; a significant number of students, parents, and even teachers are joining the chorus of voices that want to see standardized testing reduced or phased out.


Significantly, this shift in the perception of standardized testing could potentially have a negative impact on IT certification program owners.


The negative perception of standardized testing has reached the boiling point in some school districts, where parents have gone so far as to pull their kids out of school on days when some state or federally-mandated assessment exams are given. A recent Associated Press news story captures the swelling sentiment as follows:


"(A) growing cohort of parents, students, and teachers are rebelling against what they consider a toxic culture of testing."


Much of this dissent (which has been stamped with the unfortunate moniker "anti-tester movement") is based on the sheer number of exams kids are bombarded with every year. A research study cited in the aforementioned AP news story claims that today's students take an average of 113 standardized tests between kindergarten and graduation.


Critics believe that this over-testing takes away attention and resources from actual learning — but more importantly, that standardized testing does not give an effective assessment of a modern student's knowledge and skills.


Since many government-mandated exams exist solely for student assessment purposes, the recent backlash against standardized testing has a political component as well. The results of student assessment exams can potentially impact funding dollars, teacher performance ratings, and the classification of individual schools, or even entire school districts.


Criticism of standardized testing has existed for decades.  Standardized testing has been around since the early 19th century, when it was popularized in China, and then adopted by the United Kingdom. The testing system spread across Europe, and then made its way to America. As with its earliest critics, modern dissenters argue that standardized testing does not give an accurate assessment of important and desirable traits like creativity, conceptual thinking, and initiative.


What's more, studies show that standardized tests are ineffective predictors of future performance. This is particularly true when it comes to college and university admission exams like the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Studies looking at GRE and LSAT exam scores and actual student performance have shown that the correlation between the two is negligible.


Hand with pencil marking standardized test

The current negative backlash against standardized testing could end up having consequences for IT certification vendors that employ it in some form in their programs. 


Many certification vendors and industry associations have made an effort to address ongoing criticism of standardized testing by adding simulation-based tasks to their exams. Alternatively, some certification vendors have added a professional experience requirement to their credentials in order to shift focus away from the standardized exams they use.


The key issue, however, is one of perception, and how the next generation of IT industry professionals will view existing certification programs.


A growing number of modern students have rebelled against the use of standardized testing in schools. Students (of any generation) are rarely left wanting when it comes to finding things to rebel against. These students' complaints, however, have been validated by a growing number of parents and teachers. This is a powerful reinforcement of the notion that standardized testing is inferior to other forms of assessment.


A new graduate's negative perception of standardized testing will be a potential problem for certification program operators who use any form of certification exam that identifies largely as a standardized test. A student with a reinforced preconception that standardized tests are inferior, will react negatively to any program that uses these types of exams. They are far more likely to pursue a different type of skill validation, or forego official credentials altogether and try to enter the industry on their own merit.


This is a modern issue that IT certification vendors should consider when looking at revisions of their existing programs. In order to keep certification relevant and desirable to a new generation of IT professionals, certification program managers will need to look at how they are currently testing candidates, and determine how to reshape the traditional certification exam for the 21st century.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Aaron Axline is a freelance technology writer based in Canada.

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.