Two words that strike fear into the hearts of many a student; a potentially damaging week-long festival of grade-wide tests, administered for several hours a day over the course of several days. The environment for these tests is a harrowing vision; masses of bodies crammed into individuals classrooms sometimes entire grade levels tossed into gymnasiums, auditoriums, student unions with students hunched over pages and pages of test material; the test itself, the answer book, scrap paper for jotting down notes or doing quick (or not-so-quick) mathematical equations that the mediocre calculators can no longer handle.
Environmental conditions are varied; some classrooms neglect to compensate for the body head, leaving many students literally sweating out the hours. Some overcompensate, leaving many students freezing because they neglected the warning to bring a jacket. Proctors send a mixture of menacing and bored looks over the students to check for cheating, make sure everybody is working, take stock of anybody sleeping.
And the students these tests, they have been told, will determine their standing the class. If they can’t pass the test by meeting a pre-calculated national average, they run the risk of being held back a grade level, not being allowed to graduate. Anxiety and tension runs high during these times, leaving students stressed, confused, and intent on overanalyzing questions just in case there might be a trick to it.
A nightmarish situation; one that can result in students not being allowed to graduate despite their performance in the classes that they have taken already. One slip-up on these tests can completely change a student’s scholastic life. Imagine a straight-A individual being ill, tired, and stressed during this test and as a result making a myriad of mistakes that ends in their downfall.
A nightmarish situation.
One that is just that; a nightmare.
Standardized tests are loathed and feared for the threat that they carry; if a student fails to pass the test, than that student will be held back a grade, will not be permitted to graduate, will have their life torn at the seams. Imagine; a student has worked hard all the way through their high-school career, only to have a terrible day and be shot down, unable to claim the diploma they have worked so hard toward, turned away at the last second because they missed that one imperative question and thereby failed that one imperative test.
This would be a substantial problem if a test comparable to, say, the SAT II were administered to all graduating seniors; the SAT, SAT II, and ACT are all intended to grade a student on math, reading, and writing skills that would put them at comparable college levels, and these tests are designed to be difficult and require advanced skills in order to obtain higher skills.
But standardized tests that are issued as graduation requirements are, quite simply, not difficult. The work on these tests is specially geared toward students in these particular grades, and is extremely forgiving. In Florida, for instance, the FCAT Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the state’s mandatory standardized test the FCAT is administered in grades three through ten every year, all tests containing reading and arithmetic problems that test grade-level expectations, with writing portions administered in fourth, eighth, and tenth grade, with a final, science-related section administered standalone during eleventh grade. (This science section is inconsequential and is presently being administered for research purposes.)
Students must pass the standardized requirement in Florida, at least during third grade to be eligible to move up to fourth, and during tenth grade to be eligible for a high school diploma. If a student fails to pass the FCAT during tenth grade, they have an additional two years to continue trying to pass, as well as several summer opportunities, allowing them to retake the test up to seven times; if the student continues to fail the test after seven attempts, they will not be allowed to graduate. Additionally, by proving that the student just has an honestly terrible time of taking the FCAT in particular by coming back with a 15 on the ACT or a 940 on the Verbal/Math sections of the SAT the requirement to pass the FCAT will be waived, as they have successfully passed another, significantly harder standardized test.
Though it is obviously possible to simply test badly with the requirements, the allowances made for passing are more than generous, bordering on ludicrous. The test is designed specifically to cater to an educational level on par with what the student should be learning at that point in his high school career, and oftentimes is slightly simplified in order to give the student a better opportunity. If a student is incapable of passing the test not due to high anxiety, but genuinely incapable of passing the test then there is no reason they should not be held back and expected to do more. Roughly half of the questions given on the test are simple queries that any student at grade level should be able to solve with minimal effort, and time allowances usually a full hour for each section allow for ample opportunities to go back, check work, and ensure that the scantron sheet has been bubbled correctly.
Aside from the outrage of requiring substantiated test results to confirm that a student is ready to graduate something that few people should really have problems with, given the additional outrage over illiteracy and students who are allowed to graduate without having properly learned the grade-level material there is wide-spread concern about teachers gearing their courses toward teaching the test rather than the material. Sadly, this is a phenomena that does happen, and little can be done to prevent it. There is, however, one benefit; even though the students are being taught how to pass the test, they are, at least, being taught the material. A student who is incapable of reading cannot pass the test; similarly, a student who cannot perform base mental math will struggle to pass the math portion of the test; and similarly, a student who absolutely cannot write will not be permitted to pass the writing portion.
So, even though teachers may stall the teaching of their own courses in order to complement these tests, at least the students are learning what they need to learn. High school students should be expected to be able to read before they are promoted out of the system.
The worst situation in this case, however, is when classes not at all related to the test history and physical education devote themselves to teaching students how to pass the test regardless. This is a problem, unfortunately, that has no solution except to reprimand the teachers for their improper behavior. Neither the test nor the students can be blamed for an overzealous teacher who thinks that these tests are more important than the students actually learning something.
In short, despite the flaws that the tests inherent have, their purpose is a genuinely good one; to prevent students from ascending to higher grades and possibly even passing high school entirely without cursory knowledge of basic skills. There simply should not be an adult in the workforce who does not have at least tenth-grade reading or math abilities, and ideally they should all be at least twelfth-grade equivalent, if not college level. So, despite the system’s holes, it accomplishes what it was implemented to do; students cannot graduate if they cannot read.
And that is the first step to repairing the damaged education system that has begun festering in the country.