Thoughts on Standardized Testing

This morning I am adding a blog, an essay written by Sarah Desautels, my 17 year old daughter who is a junior at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. When I returned home from class last night, she asked if I could take a look at this paper and I was amazed… to say the least . She captured the hearts of many educators and students with her beautiful words and notions!


Sarah Desautels

Mrs. Legge


21  February 2012

Make Your Mark Heavy and Dark

            A student walks into a cold, fluorescently lit classroom. He absent-mindedly gazes at the rows of desks and blank expressions of unfamiliar faces in front of him. He hurriedly slides into desk number four. The thump of his heart echoes in his ears as he anxiously fumbles for his freshly sharpened number two pencil. The scantron sheet glaring at him from the corner of his desk is a nagging reminder of the fact that the test which he is about to take could potentially determine his future. No amount of tutors, five hour energy drinks, or extensive prep courses could help him now. This test, completely irrelevant to his musical ingenious, will supposedly assess just how “intelligent” he is. There is an overwhelming crisis in the current education system of America. Children and teens across the nation are crying out in exasperation and seeking help as we continue to suppress their latent talents with unethical exams. These standardized tests are ineffective in our current education system as they do not accurately assess the intelligence or accommodate the unique thought process of each individual student. To better understand the severity of this crisis, one must first look at the pressure that standardized tests places on teachers, their tendencies of measuring with bias and inequality, the emotional and psychological effects they have on students, and their alternatives.

            Teachers are feeling the pressure now more than ever to make sure their students succeed when taking these standardized tests. Panic stricken and hopeless, some teachers have resulted to cheating in order to save their students and their jobs. Cheating has been uncovered across the country as “more states and school districts have made test results the key factor in teacher evaluations and student growth” (Blume 1). The “No Child Left Behind Act,” passed during the Bush administration, has an unrealistic end goal of 100% proficient test scores by all American students and schools by the year 2014 (Scrivner 1). This demanding and overreaching goal has caused many teachers to “teach to the test” instead teaching to their students while simultaneously narrowing their curriculum. Alina Saminsky states in her article that “teachers are cutting out crucial subject areas such as music and art, and are beginning to spend excessive amounts of time on test preparation” (2). Drilling students solely on what they will be tested on and reaching beyond the curriculum to simply teach test taking skills will never engage or encourage an adolescent to embrace learning, yet most teachers are forced to focus on these less than important matters. Colette Kemmerling argues that that “standardized tests are beneficial as they identify what content was not mastered by students and allow teachers to identify areas of strength and weakness in their teaching plans” (1). However, this is simply not the case. Standardized tests do not help to identify areas of weakness in the teaching plans of these teachers, but rather they are the reason for the areas of weakness in their teaching plans.

Not only are standardized tests ineffective in our current education system, but they also have many assessment traits that do not demonstrate equity.  One of the biggest faults of these uniformed tests is that they often do not take diversity into account. More often than not, disabilities and language barriers are over looked in the construction of these high stakes exams, and all students are held to the same standards. “On  average, students with physical disabilities, ADHD, visual impairments, and so on need special assistance while taking a test which is typically not made available to them” (Haladyna 178). Granted, “The Department of Education has issued a new regulation to allow a greater number of learning-disabled children to take alternative tests rather than standardized tests” (Dunnan 1).  However, this new regulation has not been made available to all disabled children, and thus it does not express true equality throughout the education assessment system of America. Diversity in ethnicity is also a huge factor to consider when weighing the inequity of standardized tests. “African Americans currently score lower than European Americans on vocabulary, reading, and mathematics tests, as well as on tests that claim to measure scholastic aptitude and intelligence”(Phillips 1). This is not to say that there have not been some exceptions made by certain school systems for adolescents with language barriers and different cultural backgrounds, but is it fair to give non-native English speaking students the same allotted time on an exam as a native English speaking student when he/she might have trouble interpreting our complicated language?

The current education system in theUnited Stateshas turned to standardized testing in order to assess students from coast to coast and determine crucial matters such as passing or failing a grade, graduating from high school, or being accepted into certain colleges. What most don’t realize is that these high stakes exams are greatly impacting students both psychologically and emotionally. After doing poorly on a test, “low-achieving students often become disillusioned and less motivated which, in turn, leads to less effort to learn and an emotional and academic downward spiral” (Haladyna 160). Standardized tests are continuing to evoke more negative emotions toward learning, resulting in a depressed and desperate student body. In addition to leaving students in despair, standardized tests are turning schools into very competitive environments. “More students are worried about how they will do compared to other students instead of worrying about how they will do for the sake of doing their personal best” (Knight 1). Standardized tests usually consist of a multiple choice format which “limits teaching and learning to knowledge at the expense of skills and abilities such as critical and creative thinking and problem solving” (Haladyna 16). Colette Kemmerling writes in her article that the ACT and SAT college admittance exams have shown to be effective in predicting a student’s future performance in higher education, in the military, and in the work force. (1) This is not an accurate statement. One test could not possibly determine whether or not a student is capable of reaching their full academic potential at the college level.  How can one expect the children and young adults of this generation to perform their best while under this kind of pressure?

            It’s time for the scantron to meet its worst enemy, creativity. This nation is continuing to advance at an astonishing pace, and individualism is extremely prominent in this generation, so why is the attempt being made to homogenize students by assessing them with standardized tests?  The students of this country need to be recognized as inimitable individuals. They need to express their creativity and inventiveness. These tedious exams should be substituted or at the very least, complemented with performance assessments so that all strengths of a particular student can be acknowledged and embraced. “Performance assessments are opportunities for children to actually do something; maybe conduct an experiment or write a play” (Pollard 1). According to Pollard, a type of this performance assessment might be a portfolio where students collect examples of their work over the course of a year. (1) Education needs to revert back to the basics and allow “hands-on” projects with visual aids to resurface and ignite the smothered flame in the brains of these distraught students. Through creative alternatives, the American education system can put an end to the regulation of inventive students and curriculums, and light the spark of education in the hearts of all students once more.

            This is the twenty-first century where originality reins. The Apple Company comes out with a modified version of the iPod practically every month, yet the standardized tests given to students in the United States have remained the same, with few modifications for years. According to the Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word “standardize” is causing something to conform to a standard. The key word? Conform. Students across this great nation are conforming into something they’re not and losing their innovation and genius potential every time they pick up their pencil to “make their mark heavy and dark.”  The students of America must break free of this routine, cookie cutter normalization that is standardized testing.  High stakes exams can’t see the texture of oil paint on a starchy white canvas. They can’t hear the strum of a guitar or the powerful voices of a choir. They don’t see the fear and frustration in a child’s eyes. They only know percentages, deadlines, and what they think is accuracy. So where is the hope? Where has the stimulation and drive to learn gone? Standardized tests are putting too much strain on students and too much pressure on teachers. Student engagement and involvement are clearly lacking. These monotonous tests cannot possibly be effective in the current education system of America because they do not accurately assess the intelligence or accommodate the unique thought process of each individual student. It’s time for a different approach to evaluating students. It’s time for true ingenuity and authenticity. It’s time for the American student body to make its mark heavy and dark, not by bubbling in hopeless letters, but rather by living out loud and exceeding all expectations.


2 Responses to “Thoughts on Standardized Testing

  • Thank you Peg! I think so too!

  • Peggy Meyer
    12 years ago

    WOW!! She has nailed it!!! This is a very powerful essay. As one who strongly agrees with Sarah’s viewpoint, I am thrilled to read this. Sarah’s important message is stated with clarity and passion … and rings so true! “It’s time for the scantron to meet its worst enemy, creativity.” LOVE IT!!

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