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Teen Voice

Every Child Left Behind
Standardized testing vs. individualized learning

-- Shira Landau

Over the course of the past century educators have promoted standardized testing. The No Child Left Behind Act was initiated in 2001 in order to prevent students from graduating high school without basic knowledge, but this Act enforces extreme amounts of standardized testing. Originally, standardized testing was limited – it was only administered to army recruits to determine their IQ’s (Intelligence quotient) - but the use of standardized testing escalated remarkably in the nineteen sixties, as people became more concerned with educational reform. Currently, students at Haverford High School take an average of five standardized tests per year; three Four Sights, PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment), PSATs (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test), and the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test).

Prior to testing, students are burdened with emotional stress resulting from the competitive environment. When teachers are forced to restructure curricula to accommodate for the test material, suddenly students are taught memorization skills instead of reasoning and thinking skills. Additionally, students who do not come from middle class European-American families are penalized, for they may have a socio-economic disadvantage, or lack explicit knowledge of the culture.

As tests such as the SATs draw nearer, anxiety levels increase amongst students. Pressure to receive percentile scores high enough to boost ambitious students into exceptionally prestigious schools consumes students’ brains. Parents concerned that their child has not studied enough purchase books bigger than bibles in the hopes that their star student will absorb enough to gain an upper advantage on the test. Even less “high stakes” tests such as the Four Sights cause students to face distress if their grades are stranded in a buffer zone –somewhere just low enough to qualify for the lower level course, but high enough that it would be narrowly acceptable for them to remain in the higher level course. Because Four Sight tests determine level placement and whether or not a student qualifies for lab classes, there is mounting concern regarding the results. Should the tests determine whether or not particular students will be placed in a lower level class or in a math or reading lab, students may adapt a negative attitude towards learning, in addition to rapidly losing motivation. All of this extra anxiety prevents concentration in class and forces unnecessary emotional burdens upon students.

In general, school districts tend to assume that the teachers are the only ones responsible for how students perform on district and state tests. However, other factors can account for low scores. Low socio-economic levels bar some students from understanding what middle class pupils might consider “simple questions.” Ethnic backgrounds also factor into standardized test performance levels. Students who are less familiar with European-American cultures may not understand questions due to lack of cultural knowledge. For instance, a test for fourth graders may ask students to explain why the Statue of Liberty is green. Students who are new to the United States may not know what the Statue of Liberty is. Questions referencing unfamiliar landmarks or historical events pertaining to the country may hinder test takers from various ethnic groups.

School districts commonly overlook the need for actual learning to take place in the classroom instead of pure memorization. Teaching students to memorize looks more appealing, as teachers fret over whether the test scores will be high enough for them to escape a reprimanding. Many teachers feel obliged to adapt the materials they present in class to what will be on the test. Even if the test is not standardized, teachers may be evaluated in part by the scores their students achieve on midterm and final exams. This forces teachers to restructure curricula so that students can memorize material. Some educators are concerned that test results will jeopardize their jobs. True learning cannot take place in an environment where each individual is constantly concerned about the penalties of the results.

Such excessive standardized testing saturates students in anxiety, causing students to panic over their scores. School districts hold teachers accountable for poor results, threatening their careers. Classrooms become a place of regimented boredom as students study set facts and formulas, but do not practice reasoning and thinking. Suddenly the learning disappears from the classroom.

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