Truth About Testing: MISCONCEPTION #4:Testing is a necessary evil.



  • Finland, one of the world’s highest-scoring nations on international assessments, has almost completely abandoned standardized testing.
  • Elite private schools in this country do not administer HST because research has proven it harms children’s cognitive processes for learning 
  • Complex thinking and skills are poorly measured by multiple-choice tests.
  • Portfolio and performance-based tools assess and foster more meaningful learning.

From: Research Brief #1: “Testing Today in Context”, CReATE, February 2012

“Some people still ask: Even given the flaws and drawbacks,don’t we need some form of standardized testing? Aren’t equity and quality ensured by standard, uniform measurements? Aren’t tests a necessary feature of a globally competitive, world-class educational system? Research shows compellingly that the answer to these questions is, no. Assessment is a necessary part of teaching, of curriculum planning, and of educational policymaking, but it does not follow that high-stakes standardized testing is the only tool that can be used for assessment purposes.”

RE Finland’s Education System: 

“While it is important to be cautious about what lessons and features can be “transported” from one setting to another, some of the features that appear to make Finnish education successful at achieving equity, the nourishing of individual students, and national economic competitiveness, include elements that U.S. educational researchers have long documented to be components of successful schools here as well. These include: investment in highly trained teachers whose work days include ample time for planning and preparation; an intentional balance of decentralization and centralization in governance, management, and curriculum design; the provision of resources for those who need them most; high standards and supports for students with special needs; as well as trust and respect within Finnish society for the work of educators. 


What is perhaps most striking about the Finnish education reforms that have been underway since the 1970s is the near-complete abandonment of high-stakes and standardized testing. Instead, Finland uses school-based and student-centered tasks that are embedded into the curriculum. Teachers provide formative and summative reports verbally and in writing, but the major focus is on cultivating students’ active learning. Surely, Finland must have some standardized tests? Yes, there is one exam that students may take prior to university, the matriculation exam. “is exam is not required for secondary school graduation or for entry into a university, yet it is a common practice for students to take this set of open-ended exams that emphasize problem-solving, analysis, and writing.”

“Research shows that highstakes standardized testing is counterproductive. Instead schools, districts, and countries around the globe are increasingly realizing that:

– the multiple choice test is poorly suited for measuring- let alone fostering- the complex analytical skills and kinds of critical thinking that children and youth need for meaningful civic engagement and economic success in today’s world. 

– Instead of testing for the ability to answer discrete pre-set questions, schools should assess students’ abilities to synthesize, to collaborate, to deliberate, to manage projects, to solve problems and to innovate creatively. 

– In place of compulsory end of grade tests, students need assessments that foster self-reflection, individual goal-setting and active learning skills. 

Over a century ago, our nation embraced educational testing in the pursuit of uniformity and standardization. While it is questionable whether this was appropriate even for early-to-mid 20th century industrialism, it is very clear that in the contemporary global context, more complex and standards-referenced instruments, like portfolio assessments and performance assessments, are viable and vital alternatives to high-stakes standardized testing.”


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