Standardized Tests & Fear of Learning

In class this week, we did this really great activity. It involved going around campus (in groups) and asking the people we came across their thoughts about standardized testing. One of the coolest things about it was seeing that literally everyone that we talked to had an opinion about standardized tests. I think it’s partially because we’re all college students, or were likely associated with the tests in some way or another. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we everyone had opinions. So, I personally enjoyed the activity – actually, I am pretty sure we all did. But if you had asked me the day before, or even a week earlier about my feelings towards the activity, you would have gotten a much different answer.

Curiosity – with a hint of apprehensiveness masked by a stoic neutrality.

That’s the response that you would’ve gotten.

There’s something pretty abrasive about breaking the structure of the normal, everyday routine of coming to a class, being lectured, maybe discussing things, and then leaving. I’m a creature of habit, and I like my classes to be predictable. So, originally, the thought of leaving the class scared me. Even more so, we’d be talking to people about a topic in education (what if they didn’t want to talk back to us??).

Well, as I said, everything went well. My group mates were awesome, and the people that we interviewed all gave some pretty thoughtful (or at least humorous) answers.

But if I had the option to do that project or to sit in the room and listen to a lecture?

Definitely would’ve picked the lecture.

With that realization, I realized that this parallels with my experiences in school and with standardized tests, overall.

There’s a fun quote from Sydney J. Harris that goes…

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

When I read this, I’ve always thought about mastery. The purpose of education is to assimilate the information given to you, and then apply it to the world (beyond yourself).

I’m not blaming standardized tests for this. And when I say standardized tests, I mean SAT’s, EOC’s, EOG’s, AP Exams, and anything else that I may’ve taken that I don’t remember the acronym for. However, I think that our testing culture has really shifted the emphasis of education. I’m not necessarily sure if there was ever a consistent and direct application of what I learned in class to life.

Here’s an example,

Curious adult (CA): “How’s schools going?”

Me: “Okay.”

CA: “That’s good. What do your grades look like?”

Me: “Mostly A’s and B’s”

CA: “That’s great! Here’s five dollars!”

So maybe I embellished a little. But my point is that, at least in my experiences, what I learned was never really important, only that I performed well in the class with a good grade.

Grades and test scores aren’t necessarily equivalent to learning, especially not to retention and application of knowledge.

The scary thing about this isn’t that education has been swallowed by the beast that is testing culture. What’s frightening is that I’ve accepted it, and I’ve become complacent in it.

Sometimes I avoid classes and experiences because I don’t want to push myself too hard. Sometimes I worry over the grade rather than really learning. Not always – I’ve gotten a lot better since college. And I’m grateful for that. But there are still moments where I find myself wanting to shrink back into my, “just let me memorize stuff and take a test for you” ways of living.

So what did all of that just mean?

Basically, I have to remember to push myself every now and again. And, we as people, should thank the teachers and professors and instructors that push us to go above and beyond – to make experiences and use knowledge in ways that really last and matter.


[Casper Rhay]

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One Response to Standardized Tests & Fear of Learning

  1. leighahall says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty in this post! I definitely see a piece of my job as pushing you to engage in things that you may not always be comfortable doing. I think there is great value in engaging with discomfort (but you have to engage in it!). You have developed a great level of self-awareness here about yourself as a student and the education you have experienced. The question is: What will you do with this new found awareness? That’s up to you. I just try to take you to the door (or open the window).


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