Who’s really failing: students or the education system?

Who’s really failing: students or the education system?

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Carsyn Hall

“My children are in need of medical assistance! And you can sit here and smugly lecture me on the importance of tests? Tests which label children’s potential – a thing which cannot be measured!” cries Goldie Hawn as Joane in the movie Overboard. While the movie is fictional, the comment speaks to one of the biggest issues in the school system today: overtesting. Due to high stakes accountability, academic courses, such as English, math, science, and social studies, prepare students for a test rather than promoting a desire to learn.

A 2018 survey organized by H&R Block stated the average American uses only 37% of what they learned in school daily. The top skills responders wished they learned were money management (57%), credit and loan use (39%), how to negotiate (39%), as well as how to manage their emotional and mental well being (42%). The survey also found that the Pythagorean theorem, types of rocks, and naming the presidents in order were examples of useless information learned. These courses should focus on the beneficial lessons for students, such as communication skills and how to pay taxes, rather than preparing students for standardized testing.

Increased levels of anxiety are rooted in the workload given in preparation for a test. “Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues than ever,” said Kathy Reamy, school counselor at La Plata High School. As a student, I see how the pressure from teachers negatively affects my classmates. A close friend of mine cries almost every night because of her Geometry class and the amount of work she has to complete for her next assessment. While testing is a necessary evil in that teachers need to know if a student has learned the content, the amount of and type of assessments should not dramatically increase anxiety in students.

When it comes to achieving good grades, it’s not about learning the information in school anymore, it’s memorizing and doing enough to pass the test. Students study and cram just to pass their upcoming assessment rather than taking the time to learn the material. A Brookings Institution study found that “50-80% of year-over-year test score improvements were temporary.” Teachers overwhelm their students with information to study that will appear on the test, and so students typically end up binge studying, and not retaining most of the information.

“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I can guarantee you that,” said Michelle Obama. Standardized tests made for a standard student cannot determine the intelligence of every student or accurately judge their performance. These assessments acts like a “one size fits all.” Every student takes the same test, making it discriminatory against English language learners, special ed students, and students in poverty. A recent immigrant may have excellent grades but their test scores would not display that due to the language barrier. It’s not fair for students who speak a foreign language to get placed as below average due to the language barrier. Therefore, standardized tests would not accurately represent their intelligence.

Special ed students may get more time to take the test, but this leads to students spending hours on a flawed standardized test rather than focusing on their individual learning goals. Additionally, students with mental disabilities can’t always comprehend the same information as other students.

Students in poverty are being placed below average even though wealth does not determine a child’s ability to learn. Data from the College Board shows that students from families making less than $20,000/year averaged a combined score of 1,326 compared to 1,714 points for students from families making more than $200,000/year. The amount of money a family has doesn’t determine a child’s comprehension, however, standardized tests do not show that.

A test made for a standard student will not thoroughly represent their intellect, because each student is unique and displays strengths in different subjects.