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Reexamining Standardized Exams

With the inception of the new SAT that renews and reinforces an examination system that has long stressed out so many students, it raises a seemingly obvious question: Why don’t we just stop taking standardized tests? Strengthened by governmental programs, standardized testing in general, which has existed since the late 1900s, is not simple to eradicate. While programs such as No Child Left Behind aim to enhance student performance and “improve individual outcomes in education,” the apparent backlash from students, parents, and teachers indicates that these programs have not worked as promised. In a White House video posted to Facebook in late October, President Barack Obama recognized the unintended results and proposed limiting test-taking to no more than two percent of school time. This acknowledgement of over-testing is certainly significant in the movement against the institution, but, as with all top-down change, notable reform to the system will take time. Standardized testing and uniform expectations can negatively affect the success of students, and if this system cannot be easily changed, then students owe it to themselves to adjust to these circumstances.

Cartoon by Angelina Wang

Cartoon by Angelina Wang

As standardized testing can warp students’ mentalities of their own abilities, it is important to recognize that the numerical results from these exams are not holistic. These tests restrict student assessment to one narrow ability: test-taking. But being a good student is not just about one outcome on one test; a student is more fairly measured by a variety of different assessment mediums, such as projects, presentations, portfolios, and papers. Because of the inaccurate emphasis of standardized tests, students should readjust their perspective of high-stakes tests such as the Regents, SAT, and ACT exams. The demanding emphasis and preparation for these tests reinforce only the misguided necessity to get a good grade—not to enrich oneself by learning. While it is unrealistic for students to try to regard these standardized tests as “any other exam,” students should avoid becoming consumed by their scores. Of course, it is easy to say, “No one will care what you get on the math section of the SAT in ten years.” But from a student’s perspective, it can be understandably difficult to grasp the fact that the numbers don’t really represent the person you are—or the person you will be in ten years. As students, we should not lose sight of the point of education, which is to foster growth and interest in learning.

When it comes to prepping for tests like the Regents, differentiating between mandatory test prep and class itself is an important distinction. In the many classes that pause curriculum around May to prepare for the approaching Regents, students may find such preparation a frustrating detour. But it is important to recognize that deciding whether or not to take standardized tests really isn’t within teachers’ jurisdiction. Students should not let compulsory test preparation negatively affect what they derive from a class’s usual instruction.
Standardized testing does not have to be totally independent from the learning process: Students should try to utilize their test preparation time for personal enrichment as well. Critics contend that standardized testing hinders progress for both the struggling student, who feels pressured to reach a certain standard, and the surpassing student, who is expected to validate an already exceeded standard. Aligning personal enrichment with the outside expectation to do well on tests can effectively concentrate students’ focus toward something greater than just a superficial result. Students should cultivate a habit of working toward something other than just a number. Whether it be studying vocabulary for the SAT or learning geography for a history Regents, expanding knowledge should be students’ aim, thereby making for more productive motivation.

And when it comes down to taking these unavoidable tests, be confident. In a 2008 Ohio State University study, confidence and courage were shown to be two qualities that bastion students against the inclination to violate their academic integrity. While students should maintain a mature perspective on the importance of these tests, these exams are indisputably significant. Students should strive to do well while keeping their stress and anxiety levels in check.

Standardized testing is a compulsory and inescapable obligation, but when it comes to meeting these tests at the crossroads, we shouldn’t trade enrichment for anxiety. We must recognize standardized exams for what they are: a regulated method to quickly measure students. Academic growth in the long-term, far beyond a grade on a standardized test, is what matters—above all.

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