Standardized Testing: Equality or Equity?

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Standardized testing can cause strain on kids.

Jayda Delatorre

ACT, SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, we all know them, we all dread them. These are some of the major standardized tests that go on here in Round Lake High School. However, all over the country, different schools participate in many different standardized tests, which can really shape how and what students learn. Although many educators and officials say these tests provide an objective way to examine and understand how students are progressing, standardized testing in American school systems doesn’t provide a valid representation of our kids, and needs to either be scrapped completely or undergo major reforms for many reasons. Not only does it cause the entire education system to be centralized on two or three subjects, it is a value of equality, not equity, which isn’t suitable for children who have no choice on the levels of equality they face, and overall all the money wasted could be better spent on our school districts that need it the most.

The biggest problem with standardized testing is how it affects the way kids learn. The concept of testing our kids regularly and trying to get data about their progress is always a good idea, but they way that it has been gone about has led to many issues. One teacher reported to NPR that many of her colleagues, “[e]ven the ones who want the data and the information, they lament the fact that the whole school experience is increasingly becoming defined by testing and test prep.” Many teachers want to prepare their kids for the upcoming tests they have to take, which often results in teachers teaching for the test. Instead of trying to educate our children for the sake of educating them, teachers are teaching them so they will pass their next upcoming test. Teachers and school boards are only concerning themselves with the information deemed important enough to be on the test, which can result in large gaps in actual student understanding.

Schools can become so focused on improving overall student growth in areas such as math or reading, that they disregard an immense amount of other information, including subjects that aren’t important to their curriculum. For instance, it is common knowledge that art classes have been denied the same respect as subjects like math or English. Being successful in art is regarded as a hobby, while being successful in math is regarded as being a genius and having a long lasting career. Here at RLHS, we call classes like art or choir or journalism “electives” because we get to pick them, and English, Math, Science, and Social studies “core classes,” because they are the core of our education and considered the stuff we “need to know.” This is just a minor example of the internalized acceptance of some subjects being considered more important than others, which only becomes reinforced by the usage of standardized tests. People are good at different things, and testing on one or two different things doesn’t accurately reflect how well rounded or successful a student will be in their next grade, in college, or in life.

In fact, some might argue that standardized testing can often be detrimental to a student’s success. Kids can’t always handle being put at such high levels of stress. Anxiety in young adults is a serious problem, and many kids struggle hard to stay de-stressed on the daily. Kids try their best, but still face anxiety about not being good enough or considered smart enough to be as valued by the education system, especially when the things they are good at, like fine arts or designing or psychology, aren’t represented on tests or diminished by their underwhelming grades in other subjects that are more highly regarded. Also, over on Kidsmatter.edu.au a website developed by several mental health experts as an initiative to keep kids healthy, Jasmina Rowe, clinical practice supervisor at Kids Helpline, describes how “The increase in the amount of homework students receive, fear of failure…are some of the most common reasons for stress in schools.” Students can feel so overwhelmed by the need to be ridiculously successful at the things they struggle with, and so invalidated at the things they enjoy and the things they are good at. Kids of all ages can be affected by this overwhelming feeling that they aren’t good enough, which cannot be good for anyone’s mental health.

Besides this, everyone knows test taking in general can be stressful. There have been many cases of kids in elementary school crying or vomiting due to nervousness for an upcoming test they need to take. Teenagers have the highest rates of self-harm and suicide, and this can often be caused by school stressors. People claim that this is something the kids will just have to get over, but as a country, shouldn’t we try to have a more empathetic approach to raising our youth, who will one day run this country? Do we really want to have an education system that drives kids of all ages so far to the brink with stress and self-disappointment?

This leads into another important point: the struggle of equality vs equity. Standardized testing takes value of kids through equality, by giving every kid the exact same test. Kids are not made equal. You can’t expect a kid with a learning disorder to learn as well as a kid without. Some kids have to work immensely hard just to get on the same level as other kids. As an advanced student, I have always taken for granted how easily I made it through my lower level education, while I’ve seen my classmates struggle just to get a B. Those kids have worked twice as hard as me, and I was still considered one of the “smart kids” or the “tryhards.” In standardized testing, if you aren’t already smart at math or English, you have to put in much more effort than others around you, and often you still get treated as less than others. Standardized testing is made to measure our growth over time, and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard, “You’re already high enough. You don’t need your score to go up. You don’t need to make growth.” Just because a child’s score on a specific test is high, that doesn’t mean they are a hard worker or making progress. Shouldn’t kids be known by the amount of effort they give in school instead of their natural abilities?

Another important thing is the stark financial differences between economic classes, and how this relates to students and their education. In this country, kids don’t get the same education. The difference between private schools and public schools is drastic. Kids whose parents can afford to get them tutors, to put them in elite schools, to give them attentive and personalized education, are way ahead of the game. Public schools do their best to give their youth what they need, but that can range so vastly. Some schools can’t afford to feed their student’s lunch. Imagine how different the education levels of a kid who has been coddled through classy private schools compared to a kid who attends a public school in Chicago, on the verge of being shut down. You can’t just compare kids who have no choice in their initial standings in lives to kids who have been given privileges to be more successful than most. It just isn’t fair. Standardized testing treats these kids as if they have an equal chance at getting a good score on the test.

Also, according to edweek.org, standardized testing costs around $1.7 billion dollars a year. Imagine if all that money was spent on slowly fixing our school systems. That kind of money could easily cover the Chicago’s public school system short-term debt, and still have money left over to begin fixing some of the cracks in the schools and actually making a better, safer environment and curriculum for thousands of children. Imagine if we did this for several school systems. In just a few years, changes could be huge.

There is no easy solution to this problem. However, people need to at least realize that standardized testing is a problem at all. Whether we give less tests, or find a cheaper method to do the testing, or reform the testing scores to reflect individualized student progress, anything would be better than what we have now. One thing schools could do now is to stop teaching for the test. Students should go to school for the sake of learning, teachers should teach for the sake of teaching. Even if we can’t change this unnecessary, problematic structure, we can always try to fight the root it has taken in our lives. Practice art. Learn music theory. Pursue your interests; do what makes you fundamentally happy. Spend less time studying one subject, study them all. Shape your own future.