Cennamology Chief Editor
Today’s public education system has been watered down to a random choice between A, B, C and D. Now, school boards and lawmakers all over the country are realizing that they have made a terrible mistake.
When President Obama highlighted education in his State of the Union address in January, he somewhat surprisingly called for an end to the excessive use of standardized testing in public schools.
“We need to measure how well our students think, not how well they fill in a bubble on a test,” Obama said.
Standardized testing has been approached differently among teachers. The No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, greatly expanding the use of testing to measure teacher and student success and progress. Some public school teachers have abandoned the education techniques they practiced prior to NCLB, instead preparing their students for the tests instead of teaching the way they think is most effective. Since their jobs depend on how well their students do on the tests, they feel they have no choice but to stick to a very limited curriculum.
Other teachers have not been as complicit, preparing students for high school, college, and the real world instead of preparing students for the end of the year tests. The teachers that prepare their students for the test are rewarded because their students score higher, even though they are no smarter and have learned no more than the students of the teachers who have not capitulated to the new normal.
The advent of standardized testing leads to the rise of preparation courses that are usually very pricey – therefore putting lower income students at a disadvantage. The students who can afford the prep classes go on to do better on the tests than those who are not as well off. This discrepancy in scores does not have anything to do with intelligence, but is instead made possible by parents who are rich enough to afford to send their children to these classes.
There is nothing wrong with these parents who send their children to these prep classes (my parents are among them), but these classes give advantage to one group of students over another, and therefore the standardized test is not standardized.
Standardized testing also puts students who have attention problems like ADD and ADHD at a further disadvantage. Non-academic factors influence a student's score on a standardized test just as much, if not more, than academic factors do. Fatigue and attention put more pressure on students with ADD and ADHD, meaning that the designs of these tests already place these students on an uneven playing field. Some schools have offered extended time for these students to take the test, but this does little to mitigate the disadvantages, as taking the test longer often just makes these students more restless, making it even harder for them to not get distracted while taking the test.
Also, standardized tests have become a money-making scheme. Not only do the prep classes cost money, but the tests themselves cost money too. Tests like the SAT and ACT are expensive and, because of lobbying by corporations like The College Board and Kaplan, are required for admission by most universities. The companies that run these tests are out to milk students for every penny they have by charging them to take the test, take a prep class, buy a study manual and retake the test several times. All of this can cost several hundreds of dollars, and not every American student can afford that. This is very sad because students are now seen as opportunities to make a buck instead of opportunities to build a better future for America and the world.
Salisbury University, my alma mater, is a testing optional school, meaning that neither the SAT or ACT is required for admission. The testing optional policy has been a cornerstone of the admission reforms set in place by President Janet Dudley-Eshbach.
“Our studies have shown that testing optional students perform as well as their classmates and that the graduation rates of test-optional students are actually slightly higher. The program also has contributed to greater economic diversity among our incoming students, which we believe allows SU to better serve all the citizens of Maryland,” Dudley-Eshbach said.
These studies cited by Dudley-Eshbach show that standardized testing fails to properly measure the intelligence or academic ability of prospective students. The testing optional policy has also contributed to the trend of increased cultural and economic diversity of SU’s campus over the past 10 years.
As pilot studies conducted by SU have shown, overreliance on standardized testing has led to the exclusion of many superb students from higher education and also leads to a more homogenous student body. Standardized testing in elementary school has led to the release of many well-qualified teachers who wish to expand their students’ knowledge beyond the limited curriculum of standardized tests.
Standardized tests must either be deemphasized in the American education system or at least given a different name, because saying that these tests are standardized is an outright lie. School systems across the country should listen to Obama’s words and not simplify our education system and the learning process to a guess between A, B, C and D.