Learning Should Be About Students, Not Tests

Schools, and the students within them, are not standardized. The way they are assessed shouldn't be either.

How does standardized testing affect students? After reading about the growing movement to opt out of standardized testing, I'm inspired to share my experience. I'm currently a senior at Mifflinburg Area High School in central Pennsylvania and have taken the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a state required standardized test for students and schools to identify their "level." While in theory this kind of test—nowadays every state has their own version—may seem like a good idea, I do not believe standardized assessment is helping the educational process on the level of the schools and especially on the level of the students. It may even be hindering it.

Standardized testing creates a vicious cycle. The state hurts the school, which in turn must hurt the students. Schools—and administrators—must focus on state standardized tests since test scores determine funding. Schools that do not perform as well get less funding. This doesn’t make sense—wouldn't it be better to provide more resources to the schools that are not doing as well so that they can improve? Furthermore, the state has been making it even harder for schools to meet the standards they are setting. While many schools are not meeting—or just barely meet—current standards, state officials continue to raise standards rather than work to ensure that as many schools as possible meet the old levels first.

However, the worst thing about standardized tests is what they do to the students. As a student who does well in school, the new initiatives to prepare us for the tests are often frustrating. Four times this year—up from three in previous years—we, the students, are required to take practice tests. Aside from the fact that we have been taking the exact same tests, with the exact same questions for three years, it does not make sense that students who start the year in the advanced, or highest range, should be required to retake these tests. For these students, the hour and a half spent on these tests could be much better spent working on the myriad assignments they have for the scheduled classes.

My school district has also implemented Study Island, a new testing preparedness program. It’s a computer-based practice program designed to help students gain proficiency in reading. I see no benefit. Students taking honors or Advanced Placement English courses are, for the most part, already very proficient readers. The Study Island questions do not help this type of student improve, and the honors and AP English classes provide ample opportunity to improve reading skills at a deeper level that will be much more useful in the future.

These tests have become so important that they are not just affecting English classes. All classes, aside from mathematics—and including physical education, choir, welding, etc., —must do one PSSA-style reading exercise per marking period. This creates a catch-22: People are very worried about the health of children and teens, but time must be taken out of gym class for academics.

Student results on Study Island and the aforementioned practice tests are monitored very closely. Students who do not meet the requirements must attend extra practice classes every day during what would otherwise be a period devoted to studying and in-school clubs and activities. This creates yet another catch-22: While these students may show improvement on the standardized tests, they lose valuable time for studying and doing homework. This is likely to lead to lower academic performance, especially for students with after school jobs or sports commitments.

Schools—and the students within them—are not standardized, and the way they are assessed should not be either. Rather than have to "teach to the test" educators should be encouraged to promote creativity in students and should provide an individualized learning experience. The use of PSSAs and similar methods of evaluation should be reconsidered. After all, learning should be about the student, not about a test—and certainly not about the state.

Bubble answer with broken pencil image via Shutterstock


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