Intesting in our nation’s future?

No less than twice a year, high school students from all across the country are crammed into rooms with uncomfortable plastic chairs, given 2B pencils and told not to use a calculator on the English section. These are, for many, the worst times of the year.

Standardized tests are meant to gauge mastery of material, basic knowledge, and preparedness for college and/or other courses. Often used as a method of ranking students, standardized tests have a large influence on the academic futures of young people in the United States. These tests wouldn’t be such a big problem, though, if the US had a successful, especially public, school system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t anymore, making the tests an even worse indication of success and value.

Why, then, is my worth defined by a series of numbers on a piece of paper? Technically it isn’t, but academic test results are supposed to indicate to colleges how successful a student will be at university or if a student is prepared to move on to another course, which are two valid reasons to want to administer tests. However,  if a student is rejected from college because of low test scores it is likely that they will be unsuccessful later in life, not because they scored poorly but because they were unable to attend college. Granted, higher test scores have been shown to correlate with college success, but time and time again it has been shown that many students whose learning patterns and test -taking abilities do not correlate with standardized testing are capable of being exceptional and successful, often more so. Additionally, what determines those scores? Who gets the resources to score those numbers? Certainly not the people who need it the most. Testing is not, and will never be, an even playing field in this country unless the old is replaced with new and improved methods of educating and analyzing progress, and not just renamed.

One of the fundamental flaws of the current educational system is that it is so heavily based off of tests and it is constructed in such a manner that the vast majority of the population is not even supposed to get a higher education, which has now become a norm, because in the early 1900s the country needed factory workers. Not anymore. It is likely, though, that I will never have to write an essay in 25 minutes about why imagination is important, when I am outside of a standardized testing situation, in the real world. It is tests like these that pressure young people to forget that they even have imaginations, because, for some reason, no one cares about whether you figured out a new physical law of the universe or created a way to get thousands of people clean water as long as you can solve for the hypotenuse of a 90 degree triangle. Guess who didn’t have to take standardized tests? That’s right, Pythagoras. These tests do not test proficiency of anything except how to memorize a formula or a mathematical equation and regurgitate it under high amounts of pressure when in a state of stress.

I am a firm believer that intelligence is not some innate skill. People are not born to be doctors or rocket scientists or engineers or the president. People are not born intelligent, they try their hardest and they learn. Yes, people are born with different types of intelligence that they may be more successful with because every brain is different, but this is just another reason tests don’t work. In addition, no one is born stupid. There are anomalies in both cases, but for the most part your genetics only determine a small part of your intelligence. No test can tell you that you’re smart or not. Remember, George W. Bush Jr. scored highly on the SAT and went to Yale, and he is one of the ones that allowed the country to emphasize testing as the primary means of gauging academic success.

Note the broken pencil / Contributed Photo

Note the broken pencil / Contributed Photo

Universities and colleges want something to rank potential students so that they can cut down the total number of repetitious essays about individuality and how much someone has learned about all of human life from their month as a part-time intern on a ranch in the middle of Nebraska or how they gained a new sense of self-enlightenment from an experience at some summer camp (I’m guilty of this); unfortunately, I can only imagine how many incredible students have been rejected from their dream school because they got less than an 1800 on the SAT.

I can get past all of that because I understand why these tests are administered to students. It isn’t being done correctly, but I understand that line of thinking; however, these tests not only rank students individually, they also score schools and educators. Does that seem lazy and ill informed to anyone else? If a school’s student body scores too low on tests the funding will be reduced or cut altogether because that is exactly what needs to be done. No, actually, it does the exact opposite of solving the problem. Do funding cuts for schools that are not succeeding seem rational? At-risk schools should be receiving more money and an in-depth staff evaluation to help create a safe and reliable learning environment. Closing a school won’t get anyone a better education.

But you know what I bet sucks the joy right out of trying to educate and inspire a group of teenagers? A little thing called teaching-to-the-test. I hear it at least once a week. My AP classes basically end after the tests in May, whether or not you took them, because that is the goal. Take the test, but don’t really learn the material. Truthfully, if my classes didn’t teach to the test I would be frustrated because I need to take the test and get a good score.

I have attended private school, Montessori school, homeschool and public school. I have sat in on classes at an International Baccalaureate private boarding school in Tacoma and I didn’t see anything different for Orcas High; the rooms were just as cold, and tests were still a concern. When I attended Montessori school I did hands on activities to learn, they didn’t teach to a test, but they did teach. Yet, the only thing I remember is getting angry when the other 5-year-olds called their apple slices whole apples, “Look how many apples I have!” Not even one.

On the other hand, when I sat in on classes at a major university in Washington, I did not see people stressing out about an upcoming standardized test that told them whether or not they could continue their education. What I saw was genuine interest in what they were learning, engaged conversation and teachers who were passionate. That is what I want for the entire education system.