Standardized Testing: The Pandemic of Our Time

Standardized testing claims to be a method to determine whether or not a student has achieved the amount of academic growth necessary to succeed in prestigious colleges, as well as compare their results to fellow classmates. Students spend agonizing hours preparing for these tests, praying that they will out-perform their comrades and stressing over the emotionless verdict that decides whether the scores prove the student intelligent or rather average. Recently, a new question has arisen regarding such techniques. Research has established that standardized testing inflicts such an incredible amount of stress that students actually experience a drop in academic performance. According to many educators, testing has made learning no longer about the true, inspiring act but rather a redundant cycle of gauging how to pass the test. In addition, studies have proven that standardized testing is a completely inaccurate representation of a student’s capabilities.    Some still argue that these daunting examinations are a necessary evil, but if it causes more harm than good, what is the purpose? Answer: there is none.

Complaints about the stresses of standardized testing have been echoed down high school hallways for years, yet no one has paid attention- until now. Dozens of new studies are linking testing strategies to harmful psychological effects. One conducted by Brain Connection, a hub for information on our minds, observes that the prescriptions for the drugs Ritalin and Prozac have steadily increased with stress relief after the No Child Left Behind reform was passed. Moreover, the well-acclaimed editor of Foundations of Psychology, Charles Gilbert,  explains that most kids experience some form of common exam stress, which “include disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, worry, irregular eating habits, increased infections, and inability to concentrate.” The Sacramento Bee even reported that “test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it.” The mental stress of these tests is so powerful they cause harsh physical symptoms. Such health problems begin as early as kindergarten. Parents tell stories of their second graders wake up crying, overwhelmed with stress from school. The anxiety associated with standardized testing preys to such an extreme before our children even learn to properly tie their shoes.

In addition to the psychological effects, standardized testing has caused learning to evolve into a monotonous operation. Teachers have begun to specifically structure their classes for the student to pass the test rather than to absorb the information for the sake of learning, and becoming educated people who can effectively contribute to society. Many kids now view school as an institution necessary for them to pass exams ensuring the adult world sitting in ivy-covered colleges or shiny skyscrapers they will be productive citizens. A five-year University of Maryland study completed in 2007 found that the pressure teachers were feeling to ‘teach to the test’ since No Child Left Behind lead to “declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum.” Thousands of schools, especially in New York, are adding test preparation sessions in the already existing school day as well as on vacation days, to avoid being shut down by the state for low test scores. The focus is no longer on whether or not a student truly understands the material and learns necessary skills that will be useful in the real world. Now, we must figure out what will be on the exams and teach strictly that information. If there is extra time to teach other important skills, fantastic, but the test must be covered first. No wonder students dread going to school.

It is critical to note that standardized testing is not an accurate representation of a student’s intelligence level and their comprehension. These tests force the taker to not only know the material but also be able to produce the answer at lighting speed. On top of that, not all students have the same resources available to them Those in more impoverished areas are statistically proven to achieve lower scores when compared to wealthier communities. Wealthier communities can afford to pay for outside tutors and classes which will enhance the teen’s test-taking skills, while those who are not as privileged are unable to afford such things. Since the two communities can obtain different resources, the results of the test will not be based on a teen’s understanding of the material taught by the teacher but rather the amount of hours they were able to spend with a tutor.

Many students cram for standardized tests, hoping that they are able to relearn everything they forgot during the school year within a short amount of time. Since the studying is done for a short amount of time and just for the purpose of the test, the majority of students will forget the material shortly after. A 2001 study published by the Brookings Institution found that 50-80% of year-over-year test score improvements were temporary and “caused by fluctuations that had nothing to do with long-term changes in learning…” Furthermore, for those who do not have English as a first-language, standardized tests puts them at an unfair advantage. A student who recently moved from abroad with little understanding of the English language has at an automatic disadvantage for they will not grasp questions and prompts in an effective manner. It does not matter that this student is well above average in their intelligence; the mere fact that they do not speak the language diminishes their intellectual abilities. Standardized tests cater to those from English speaking countries and give unfair disadvantages to foreign-born.

All in all, standardized tests are not a “necessary evil”, they are just plain evil. Not only do they result in harmful psychological effects, produced a monotonous teaching program devoid of true learning, but also discriminate against those who do not have the same resources– economically and linguistically– and students who struggle with the structure and timing of the testing. Testing does not bring anything positive for the students who are quaking under the stress. All testing is pointless, and therefore, should be removed from the lives of high schoolers.

Desiree Bottigliero

staff writer

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