There are many problems plaguing American public schools today, the most significant being the focus on standardized testing which has been steadily growing out of control. The results of these tests often determine a school’s reputation and more importantly funding, so it is understandable that schools put so much emphasis on preparing students for the exam. However, the amount of time and resources devoted to this cause severely hinders the education of our youth.
Not so many years ago, standardized testing was a process that took two, maybe three days out of the school year. Students were only armed with the skills and knowledge they acquired through the regular curriculum. Teachers would take a day to cover any concept they knew was on the test that they had not yet taught, along with proper test taking procedures; and that was the extent of it.
Today, on the other hand, schools are infiltrated with preparation, reminders, and incentives for succeeding on the tests. Classroom walls are covered in posters detailing what will be covered on the test and how answers will be graded. Entire courses are created to ensure that lower and average ability students score well. These kids take practice test after practice test in the hope that something will sink in and that overall numbers will rise.
Additionally, schools are giving “foresight” tests a few times a year in order to track the progress of the programs in place and to give students more test-taking practice, as well as to predict how well they will perform. These ancillary exams take a few days and disrupt the school schedule. In order to coerce the students to take these seriously, schools offer cash rewards for high scores, make passing them a graduation requirement, or use them as placement tests to decide which level classes students will be in the following year.
What is the cost of all of this preparation? The goal of public education shifts from academic and personal growth and learning to being able to successfully complete standardized tests. It is not too much of an exaggeration considering that curriculum is geared towards teaching the test, “traditional” classes and electives are being cut in order to make room for the specialized classes mentioned earlier, and that more and more of districts’ budgets are being devoted to test prep materials and programs. Further, it is not just the English and math teachers whose lesson plans are restricted to test material, educators in disciplines not covered on the tests are forced to cater to the testing goals as well.
There are a few schools who refuse to bow to the pressure of standardized tests, however the majority of districts do not have that luxury or that courage. These tests can be beneficial if used in proper perspective, but the high stakes that they carry along with them today distorts their overall importance. If this emphasis on test success is not checked soon, the children of the future will be denied the type of all around education they deserve.