‘Tis the Season of Scantron

Sydney Brumfield

Starting roughly around the 17th of April, standardized testing has begun to show itself in schools all over America. With standardized testing entering back into the mindset of students, the controversial question of their importance and purpose is once again brought to light. When I ended up asking these questions myself, I took to the internet and searched for why students everywhere have to undergo weeks of stressful testing.

For those of you who don’t know, standardized testing has been around since the mid 1800s, but the extremity we have reached now did not arise until 2002 when George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).The NCLB states that annual testing in schools will occur in reading and math (and later science) in Grades 3 through 8 and again in 10th Grade. If schools do not show sufficient “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP), they faced sanctions and the possibility of being taken over by the state or closed. Once these tests were put into place, dozens more were created and follow roughly the same guidelines. The overall purpose of standardized tests is to get a fair and objective, or “standard,” measure of a student’s ability. Ultimately, it’s to see if the schools and teachers are being held accountable to taxpayers. But are standardized tests really an accurate representation of a student’s ability?

Many argue that the tests are neither fair nor objective, commonly asking students questions that would otherwise not be covered over the course of that school year. These people also believe that standardized testing strictly limits individuals from thinking outside of the box and instead promotes a narrow, drill-like curriculum. This is most commonly called “teaching to the test,” which has replaced many good teaching practices. A study at the University of Maryland in 2007 revealed “the pressure teachers were feeling to ‘teach to the test'” as the NCLB was leading to “declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum.”

On top of limiting individual thought, it is shown that the pressure of standardized tests is a huge stressor on both students and educators. As mentioned above, teachers feel a huge stress to “teach to the test” to ensure that all of their students pass, and this also adds an extreme amount of pressure on the students.  According to education researcher Gregory J. Cizek, anecdotes abound “illustrating how testing… produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both.”

Not only is standardized testing encouraging a limited learning curriculum and negatively influencing those who have to deal with them, but according to opponents, excessive testing does not prepare students for productive adult lives. In actuality, think about when as an adult you would be told to sit down with two No. 2 pencils and fill out this scantron according to the test booklet? And, oh, if you don’t score a proficient or higher there will be serious consequences. As far as I am aware, none. So in schools for a solid two months or so, we are conditioning our students to think like these tests and master the skills necessary to take them. But if they didn’t have to learn all of that, imagine what else they could be learning!

The other side of this argument, though, does have some fair points. For example, standardized tests are inclusive and non-discriminatory because they ensure that content is equivalent for all students. So theoretically someone who comes from a neighborhood riddled with poverty has the same chance for success on these tests as someone who comes from an extremely wealthy neighborhood. Also, increased testing does not technically force teachers to encourage “drill ‘n kill” rote learning, so teachers don’t ever have to prepare students for standardized tests. And finally, it is believed that stricter standards and increased testing are better preparing school students for college.

So during this jolly good time of the year, filled with the crisp aroma of unused No. 2 pencils solely purchased for the season of the scantron, just remember that you only need to retain the knowledge you crammed to learn for a few more weeks, and then you can forget about it over the summer. And hey, maybe next year your parents will allow you to opt out.