Teaching or Testing?

Test. This word usually triggers our brains to remember the anxiety-filled days of high school or college when our lives depended on acing that one particular exam. We may have spent countless hours poring over material, only to forget it all the minute the teacher hands us the test. That anxiety could be argued as a necessary part of growing up; however, when children as young as five years old are going through the same pressures, this becomes a problem. Schools are beginning to test students at younger and younger ages as each state, city and school district mandates their own testing onto students. Is all this testing actually worth it? I argue no, having been in the education system my entire life, as well as planning to be in it for countless more years. Standardized testing is not a valid measurement of a student’s potential, especially when there are alternative options.

Our entire lives we are told that good grades equal graduating from school, which leads to getting into a good college, and then finally a good job. The definition of “good” that we are taught to believe gets ingrained into our minds from the day we begin testing. Essentially, kindergarteners are being told that if they do not receive an acceptable grade on a test about the alphabet, they will be on the wrong path for the rest of their academic lives. I have witnessed first-hand the stress testing can place on young students. In a third grade classroom, I have observed students cry and get sick over the fact that they have to take a test. One student approached me the day of a big test and told me that he could not sleep all night due to stress about the upcoming exam. When such young students are becoming both physically and mentally unable to function as they normally would, there is a problem.

Testing not only creates pressure for the students, but for teachers and parents as well. I have seen and talked to teachers who say that they hate testing and it is beginning to take the joy out of teaching for them. If our educators are discouraged at the thought of testing, no one is benefiting from the current testing protocols in the United States. Another problem that teachers have with testing in schools is that they are evaluated on their students’ success rates. This leads to educators focusing more on the test results and less on the actual students. This is not usually a choice teachers enjoy making, but if their careers are dependent on their students’ achievements, they are expected to comply. If one visits an elementary school classroom recently, they will notice the diverse range of students it contains. The amount of students with learning and physical disabilities, as well as those with language barriers, is counted into the group of students teachers must pass through testing. Differentiating instruction is already a complex process, but when you involve all the personalities one classroom holds, the problems worsen.

Parents have taken notice and have begun to argue against state and district testing policies, but not much has come to fruition. Typically worried about their child passing a test, parents will force their children to devote more time to studying, which in turn decreases that child’s time to play. Certain students simply learn better through hands-on instruction or exploration. Forcing these students to sit quietly at a desk and complete a test for hours at a time does not allow them to harness their full learning potential. Young children are on strict timelines as it is with school and bedtime. Along with putting in the time they spend studying outside of the classroom, the child rarely has time to release any pent up energy they may have. Students are continuing to get more and more stressed, and yet there is no time for them to relax or take a break. Even adults need some time every now and then to let go of their worries and focus on something enjoyable. Through the current testing protocols, students lose necessary aspects of their childhood in worry of their futures.

I am not arguing that we forego testing altogether, but there are different and arguably more efficient ways to assess learning. When discussing the topic of testing with fellow students and teachers, I have found there is a consensus that testing is necessary but not to the extent that the American public school system believes. Schools could incorporate more informal testing, such as using observation or conversation, into their curriculum. As a future educator, I have noticed the change in my students when I conduct a formal paper and pencil test compared to an informal assessment, such as observing them work in groups. When the students do not believe they are being tested, they release their tensions and complete the assignment to their full potential. The stress and pressure caused by formal standardized testing creates a blockage in their minds that forces them to spend more time thinking about the pending test rather than the material on it.

The issue of standardized and formal testing is not only a problem with elementary school students. It follows students all the way up through middle school, high school and to college. Many professors believe that the current forms of testing they conduct actually sets the students up to fail. However, as we get older we become accustomed to constant testing and consider it a way of life. Walking through any campus building, you are bound to hear at least one person complaining about how their classes are pointless and not preparing them for the real world. Instead of blaming the professors, who probably hate giving tests just as much as students hate taking them, the gaze should be turned to the American public school system. It makes one wonder if changing the testing situation in younger grades would impact that of higher education.

The newest wave of teaching principles advocates for personal and individualistic approaches to assessing student learning. Using these alternative methods helps students retain information in a positive and applicable way. The problem of over-testing is prominent, but it cannot be fixed until everyone realizes that there is such a problem. Students should not suffer from anxiety their entire school careers. They WILL be able to find jobs, even if they do not pass that one test. Let’s begin by taking the pressure off of standardized testing so it is there as an advantage and not an obstacle.

-Harjas Chahal

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