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The Tests That Can Determine an Entire Future Essay

Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” How, though, may teachers follow these wise words, when they must constantly worry about educating their students so they can pass just one of the many standardized tests thrust upon them? John Dewey, an American philosopher, also said, “The real process of education should be the process of learning to think through the application of real problems.” How, though, can students possibly learn critical thinking if they are forced to learn through relentless memorization and worksheets in order for them to pass one test upon which their futures so highly depend? This phenomenon of accountability testing and holding teachers accountable for scores has swept across the country, creating a negative approach to educating the youth of America. Due to the lack of validity of these tests and the negative effects on teachers and students, standardized testing is ruining the public education system.

With accountability for standardized testing being a new trend in America, today, many do not realize how long ago they were actually used and why they are being used now. Dan Fletcher wrote in a Time magazine article that China was the first country to ever develop standardized tests, which were used to test government officials (4). This new idea began to move westward, but writing essays was still the favored method of testing. However, in 1905, America began to conform to the new trend, and Alfred Binet developed the IQ test, which “emerged as an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly”(Fletcher 5). Today, standardized tests have become the sole measure of not only student success, but also the success of the school and teachers.

A few years ago, in 2001, George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which “[expanded] state-mandated standardized testing as means of assessing school performance” (“How Standardized Testing”). The passing of this law brought about an enormous wave of change. Schools now “use standardized testing to determine if children are ready for school…[to] diagnose for learning disability, retardation and other handicaps; and to decide whether to promote, retain in grade, or graduate many students” (“How Standardized Testing”). Obviously, there have been many changes made to the idea of standardized testing. Society has gone from using them to test government officials to now using the tests as a means of judging a student’s knowledge.

Yet, are they actually helping America?

Research, from the present and the past, has shown that education in America has seen no improvement since the spread of standardized testing. In 1999, according to the National Research Center, “In comparison with students from 143 other countries, American students finished in the lowest quarter in geometry and ranked second from the bottom in algebra” (Sykes). Ten years later, America is still experiencing low stats, even with the passing of the NCLB Act. There are many statistics showing the decline of the United States in the global rankings: “U.S. students slipped from 18th in the world in math in 2000 to 31st place in 2009, with a similar decline in science and no change in reading” (“Is the Use of”). It is ironic that this decline became noticeable not long after Bush’s NCLB Act was passed, with the intended purpose of bettering the education of America’s students.

One reason for this digression is the fact that the tests favor not only white Americans, but also the wealthy. There have been many critics who have said that standardized tests are racist because of the difference in performance: “Evidence of such differences in test scores raise the issue that perhaps these tests are discriminating. Tests do not recognize that students of different cultures may have different learning styles” (Hudson 52). For this reason, Hispanics, African-Americans and foreign exchange students do not experience high success rates on these tests. Furthermore, the tests tend to favor the wealthy, rather than the less fortunate students:

There is no question that students with greater resources and economic opportunities perform better as a general rule on standardized tests…standardized tests are unfair because the questions require a set of knowledge and skills more likely to be possessed by children from a privileged background.
(Hudson 50)

In a country where discrimination is ruled unconstitutional, would one not think that government officials would work to eliminate this? Not only are these tests favorable to certain people, but it does not help that accountability tests have become the sole determinant of students’ knowledge and their readiness to move on with their education. It is now to the point where “[schools] require students to pass an exit exam before they can graduate from high school. Even if the students pass all their courses, they can be denied their diplomas” (Hudson 57). It is completely incomprehensible that a student can pass every single one of his or her high school courses needed to graduate, but he or she will not receive a diploma because of one, single, measly test score.

Not only does this issue occur with high school, but there is even more pressure on students when it comes to getting into a college: “The ACT and its counterpart, the SAT, have become one of the largest determining factors in the college-admissions process, particularly for elite schools” (Fletcher 4). So, now students cannot even get into the college of their choice without meeting the required standards on one of these ridiculous tests. Making matters worse, there are so many things that can go wrong on the day of that one test that can decide a student’s future: “Studies have documented that how students fare on standardized tests can be greatly influenced by a host of external factors, including stress over taking the test, amount of sleep, distractions at the testing site, time of day, emotional state and others” (French 64). If this is so, then why do government officials continue to falsely judge America’s knowledge by basing its success on the performance of one test?

It is already bad enough that these outrageous tests are the sole basis of a student’s educational progress, but they also insult the student’s intelligence. These tests consist of absolutely no curriculum whatsoever, and do not involve one bit of critical thinking: “[The NCLB Act] bypass[es] curriculum and standards…it demand[s] that schools generate higher test scores in basic skills, but it require[s] no curriculum at all, nor [does] it raise standards” (Ravitch 16).

Therefore, all of the classes that students are required to take in high school, in reality, are not really helping them with these oh so important tests. They are completely excluding “history, civics, literature, science, the arts, and geography” (Ravitch 16). Instead, they test how to read graphs, reading comprehension, grammar, and other ridiculous things that do not really test a student’s full capability or creativity. For these reasons, “a different approach to reform is needed-one that focuses on helping students develop high-levels of proficiency in the real-world and competencies they will need to succeed in the workplace tomorrow” (Reha 46). By doing this, America would be significantly helping its youth by preparing them for the future, rather than preparing them for a single test with no critical thinking at all.

Unfortunately, there have been no changes made since the spread of standardized testing evolved; positive changes, that is. As an effect of this phenomenon, there have been many changes in the way teachers must teach, and the way the environment must be within their classrooms. Now, teachers find themselves teaching to the test, rather than getting their students involved in real-life decision making: “They are forced to teach in ways that are not developmentally appropriate and do not promote critical thinking and decision-making” (Solley 53). What good is it doing a student by filling out multiple choice essays, rather than learning how to problem solve and make good decisions? Now, it is all “rote learning, [and] less real learning…kids fill out more worksheets, answer more questions at the end of textbook chapters, and participate in more drills” (Reha 45), than ever before.

It is no surprise that teachers are very opposed to this method, and are often fighting against it. David Berliner and Sharon L. Nichols, authors of Has No Child Left Behind Been Good for Education, wrote that they often found teachers and administrators repeatedly telling them “that they were being held responsible for their students’ performance regardless of other factors that may affect it. [They] found teachers concerned about their loss of morale…and the undercutting of their professionalism” (49). Apparently, teachers’ feelings do not matter in this country. America has made it obvious that teachers no longer have a say in how they teach and the way they run their classrooms, which only causes an inevitable chain of negativity leading to the students, themselves.

With all of these negative changes that must be made by the teachers, it is no wonder why students are becoming less motivated to learn. People cannot expect students to honestly want to sit through a boring lecture about the facts and statistics that they must memorize just so they can pass one, single test: “Schools no longer strive to create informed citizens; instead, they focus only on teaching children what is essential for them to know to pass the government-mandated standardized tests.

As a result, children’s motivation and learning suffer” (Solley 41). As previously said, teachers must have students fill out more worksheets and multiple choice exams than ever; how could that possibly be fun for a child? Bobbie A. Solley, author of Education, wrote that “children are now under increased pressure to perform on demand, memorize mundane facts and figures, and sit for long periods of time while listening to the teacher and/or filling in circles on a worksheet” (49). How could a student feel motivated to go to school knowing that this is what he or she will be doing for the entire day?

Think about it. Think about what the futures of students could look like without standardized testing. Picture how stress free their lives could be, without any added pressures of performing well on these ridiculous tests. Imagine them being able to engage in critical thinking and decision-making that will help them in the real-world, rather than engaging in learning just for one test. If only people would see how successful the youth of America could be without the use of standardized testing.

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