Tests have always been a struggle for me, from EOGs in elementary school to the SAT and the ACT. I have vivid memories of making myself sick worrying about tests in the weeks leading up to them, and while this has become less of a problem throughout college, its effects have certainly lingered. What’s more is that I know I am not alone; students everywhere are suffering from the personal effects of testing. And so the question becomes, “What will become of standardized testing in the American public school system?
Dianne Ravitch, an educational academic who has written on a variety of topics, recently contributed her thoughts on the future of standardized testing to the Huffington Post. The title of her blog post encompasses her argument from the start: “Why Every Child Should Opt Out of the Standardized Tests.” Ravitch describes standardized tests as pointless, meaningless, and “balderdash,” and her ceaseless resentment toward them is palpable. However, her argument delves deeper into the true problems revolving around the tests. Specifically, she notes that so many of the tests’ results aren’t returned until students already have a new teacher, and that attention paid to the arts, history, civics, and physical education has dropped due to the absence of these subjects on most tests. Ravitch’s final call to action in her post urges parents everywhere to have meaningful discussions about these tests with their children, reminding them that traits such as kindness, creativity, and thoughtfulness matter far more than what these tests measure.
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In class this past week, we discussed the implications of standardized testing, as well as the personal experiences we each have endured as a result of them. Some people mentioned how the culture perpetuated by testing caused them to opt out themselves, even without their parents’ pushing them to do so. Others spoke about how testing had become such an understood and engrained part of public education that they of course didn’t question its presence in their lives. I painted a pretty bleak picture of what was probably my worst experience with testing.
When I was in the 7th grade, my Algebra I class was preparing to take the EOC, which was apparently a step up from the EOG we knew so well from years prior. Our class had about a week’s worth of review sessions, and I don’t think I was able to sit through one in its entirety due to my sickness from worrying so much. I am not even sure of the origins of this severe anxiety, but I do remember it completely today, some eight years later. I remember feeling so painfully nervous about a number on a test, a number I felt at the time was indicative of who I was and what I was worth. I actually ended up doing well on the test, but that in no way changes the impact that experience had and still has on my perception of standardized testing.
So, what do I think should be the future of testing? My honest answer is a confused one, because I don’t know that there is a clear answer, at least not yet. Dianne Ravitch offers a unique perspective and option for parents across the country: just opt out, and don’t buy into the program that has been present in public schools for so long. For now, I will do what I have strived to do for so long and what Ravitch touches on toward the end of her post: I will keep telling the students with whom I volunteer and work that their self-worth extends far beyond test results. I will tell them that their true character defines them, not answers on a scantron. And I will tell each them that they matter, because they really do.