By Sage McBee
Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
And… pencils down.”
These dreaded words are associated with one of the most common fears for students: standardized tests.
When I refer to standardized tests, I mean the multiple-choice “fill out the bubble tests,” such as the aptitude test (SAT) and the ACT.
Since standardized testing began in the U.S. more than 50 years ago, it has become mandatory in most schools. However, many would say these tests are overemphasized in American education.
Tests are necessary in order to evaluate the work of both students and teachers. The problem is the goal of standardized tests is getting each answer correct rather than emphasizing the importance of creativity and critical thought, something that our society needs.
According to Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Founding Director of the Center for Gifted Education, critical thinking is essential in order for students to truly understand the material and be able to apply their knowledge elsewhere.
“Having students track patterns in information forces them to look at the information as a process instead of simply information to be memorized and helps them develop skills of recognition and prediction,” she said in an interview for Think magazine.
At Northwest Academy, you may have noticed that we don’t have to endure these tests very often because the only standardized-style test administered by the school is the PSAT. Scott Kerman, Assistant Head of School, believes that these tests are very narrow and do not encourage positive learning.
“I don’t think [standardized testing] reveals anything about a student’s capacity for knowledge and learning,” Kerman said. “It doesn’t measure a student’s drive, initiative or creativity and doesn’t measure accurately the different ways that students learn or express their knowledge.”
It seems public education now revolves around memorization instead of critical thinking. According to the Washington Post, scripted curriculum has forced many teachers around the country to eliminate projects and activities that provide students with an opportunity to be creative and imaginative. Many students are thus no longer as interested in creative studies because they are afraid that if they spend too much time working on non-academic interests, they will not do well enough on standardized tests.
And the truth is, students should be afraid, because these test scores could decide what colleges they can go to, what careers they are able to pursue.
Not only has this obsession with standardized testing caused a decrease in creativity in schools, but it has also caused a large increase in cheating, anxiety attacks and scripted curriculum around the U.S.. In early April this year, a large cheating scandal was resolved in Atlanta when 11 school teachers and administrators were convicted of racketeering. According to FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, similar cheating scandals have been documented in 39 states.
The high amount of pressure these tests place on students has changed the goal of school from encouraging creativity and imagination to getting the question right. This is something that must change and it seems that the public agrees. According to the Washington Post, a national poll found that 64 percent of the country believes too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests.
The era of high-stake testing began when President George W. Bush created the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), requiring all public schools to issue state-wide standardized tests to their students. It also meant that each year, students were required to achieve higher test scores than the previous year’s class. Following the passing of this act, annual state spending on standardized tests rose from $42 million to almost $1.1 billion in 2008, a 160% increase.
If NCLB had been a success, at least the money spent would have had some positive effect. However, after millions of students were forced to take these tedious, stressful and one-dimensional tests, many of our score rankings fell even further internationally. Tell me if that sounds like a success to you.
Although NCLB has been generally accepted as a failure, a similar version of this act was recently put into place by the Obama administration in 2009. This was a $4.35 billion grant called Race to the Top, meant to “spur and reward innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education.” However, similar to NCLB, Race to the Top once again is increasing the testing pressure in schools.
Standardized testing is named so because it represents our standard expectations for students. Do we want our current standard for students to be mindless drones, capable only of memorizing which number-bubble to fill in? The U.S. has a duty to teach the next generation in a way that will help them succeed in their future lives, but right now it is scoring an F.
Image Credit: Sage McBee