(But you can’t keep calm, too much pressure!)
For almost every child some imminent test hangs over their head, ominously there throughout each and every school year. For me personally, it was the E.O.G. (End-of-Grade Assessments), the North Carolina standardized test. The pressure placed on students to do well on these types of assessments is absolutely ridiculous. Starting in the second grade, class periods became about studying for the E.O.G.s, doing practice problems, and discussing test taking skills and tips. I know for me, these tests were something that I dreaded and felt so much disdain towards.
At my school, teachers would openly discuss the fact that their classes test scores would determine whether or not they got a pay raise. I can still remember feeling the pressure personally to help my teacher to make more money, as she had always complained about how she was poor. Imagine that kind of pressure as an 8 year old? Another added pressure was that how students did on their E.O.G.s determined which class they would be placed into the following year. Obviously I and my parents wanted me to be placed into the best class possible, which meant getting exceptional scores on the E.O.G.s. So much of my elementary school career was centered around these tests. We had pep rallies to get the school excited and determined to do well on the tests. Our principal would always say on the morning announcements that we needed to study hard in order to make sure our school maintained its position as a school of excellence. I remember the nights before the E.O.G. waking up and not being able to fall asleep thinking about how important it was for me to do well on these tests. In order to explain the pressure and how much my school life revolved around these tests I want to discuss two incidents with the E.O.G.s that I experienced.
The first was when I was in 3rd grade. In North Carolina, this was the first year students had to take the E.O.G.s. In the fall, all of the third graders had to take the pre-E.O.G.s so that their teachers could see where their students were in comparison to one another and to see which students needed extra help so that they could pass the tests and go on to the next grade. I, being a third grader who made straight As, was in the gifted program at our school, and usually had no problem with reading or writing, got in the 95th percentile on the pre-E.O.G. My parents and I were extremely pleased with this accomplishment. Following this pre assessment my teacher began pulling me out for tutoring, and being a third grader, this was extremely embarrassing. My parents nor I could understand why this was happening, after all I had done really well on my pre-E.O.G. The interesting thing about the E.O.G.s were that teachers needed their students to show improvement from their previous scores. When my parents confronted my teacher to ask her why it was that I was being pulled out, she explained that they needed me to show improvement so I needed to be able to get into the 98th percentile or it wasn’t enough for her to get a raise and for my school to maintain school of excellence. (Just to clarify, me, a student in the 95th percentile was going to affect the school THAT much?!, interesting…) This was the beginning of my hatred towards the E.O.G. I had done well and it still caused me stress and embarrassment. I was so worried I wouldn’t grow that 3% and that I would hurt my teacher’s scores!
The second incident was just as ridiculous, if not more. In the seventh grade, after receiving my E.O.G scores I was absolutely devastated. In reading, I had MAINTAINED my score from the year before. Meaning, I had done just as well as I had the previous year, but didn’t improve. I remember feeling seriously sick to my stomach. I ran into my language arts teacher’s classroom exclaiming that I was no longer going to be able to go to college because I didn’t improve on my reading score. Thankfully, my language arts teacher saw past the importance of the E.O.G.s and explained to me that my scores were perfectly fine and that I was in no danger of not being able to get into college. I think that this story really illustrates the instilled fear associated with not improving your scores that was drilled into me by all of the educators from my past.
The E.O.G.s, as well as any standardized testing, makes it so that teachers are unable to teach material for the good of their students but rather they are forced to make sure that their students are “showing progress” and “improving upon previous scores.” But how is that fair? How can one test, that can easily be influenced by the situation of the day that it occurs on (i.e. you could be sick on that day) determine what a student has learned over the course of the year? These types of tests make it so that teachers have to teach to the test, which is not the point of an education. Although these tests are used as tools to show teachers how well they have done, and which students need help, they also put extreme pressure on both students and teachers. There has to be a better solution.