In the early 2000s, learning died in public schools. 14 years later, there is finally a push to resurrect true educational instruction and creativity. It only took 14 years. Let’s talk about standardized testing.
Chances are, you have more knowledge than can be encompassed in a series of darkened multiple choice bubbles. Chances are, your job, daily life, academic career, requires more skill than raising a number 2 pencil and rushing to beat a 2-hour time limit.
Arguably, the purpose behind implementing standardized tests like the PSSA was altruistic. The program, called No Child Left Behind, was intended to diagnose and correct holes in academic learning, especially for underprivileged school districts.
Implementing a standard, in theory, ensured that ever student had access to the same education that would provide them equal access to higher education. Not so. Any blanket measure applied to a large group (e.g. the entire student body of the United States) cannot be effectively carried out.
The issue is in implementation and overuse of the program. Schools that don’t meet the standards are threatened with budget cuts and the possibility of being shut down. Teachers are assessed on how well students perform on the exam, and both tenure and pay rest on this arbitrary quantification in some instances. This undoubtedly incentivizes schools to perform well on standardized tests, but at what cost?
Students spend hours on practice tests and some parents spend hundreds on tutors. Teachers teach only topics found on the tests, as their job security depends on it. Time taken for testing, a full week in the case of the PSSA, is lost for valuable instruction time.
Activities pushed aside include creative projects, reading stories aloud with the class, time outside in the fresh air watching tadpoles for a science project. These things may not lend themselves to a high test score or show up readily on a college transcript, but they foster curiosity, imagination and a passion for learning. Standardized testing killed the fundamentals of innovation and a desire to pursue knowledge in students.
Any grade school teacher can tell you that interest and passion are two of the necessary ingredients for a successful student. Any college professor would be more likely to cite the student who reaches beyond the confines of the classroom as the one most likely to achieve great things in an academic and practical environment.
Thankfully, there has been a recent push-back against the absurdity of extensive standardized testing. A 2015 article “Leave Testing Behind” chronicles the rise and fall of standardized testing and explains that more creative assessment strategies are gaining popularity in schools. Experiments, hands-on activities and projects can exhibit students’ skills in a more practically applicable way.
Although some argue that the subjectivity of these types of assessment interfere with their effectiveness, they are a better representation of real-world scenarios. They teach students to apply themselves creatively, think outside the box and problem solve. Additionally, a minimal amount of standardized testing could be incorporated into education without putting so much emphasis on performance and preparation.
Standardized testing can be incorporated in moderation, but schools and educators should emphasize the importance of creativity and a passion for learning in the future leaders of our world.