Standardized Tests

{Part 1 of a series on Broken Chalkboards}

The school system of test taking is messed up.

Now I’m not saying that just because I have 6 AP’s breathing down my neck. I mean that in the sense that our very belief in education, based on the merit of standardized tests, is becoming more and more flawed, if not outright delusional.

State standard tests, such as the Washington WASL/EOC or whatever odd name they are giving it now, or even the TCAPs, the CATs, or even the Regents, are all flawed. (full list here) there have been so much raw corruption in the making of these tests, not to mention the other poor strategies about the administration of the tests.

And you know about the tests original goals, to get students at a level of proficiency? Well, that isn’t happening much any more.

As discussed in Steven Levitt’s brilliant book, Freakanomics, there has been an emerging trend of cheating on those tests. Not the students cheating, why that would obviously be preposterous. No, it’s the teachers cheating. Now that the success of teachers, and more importantly to some, their job security and pay level, is directly linked to these results, they are helping out hear kids. Bubbling in correct answers for them. Looking at the test so they could give out answers. “Accidentally” leaving the answers on the chalkboard in front of the class. Or perhaps more subtly, teaching to the test. Encouraging students to just know what’s needed on the test, and not pursue outside information.

Now that we pin so much to these tests, we are also adding on social pressures to either do well, or drop our of school altogether. We aren’t entertaining free thought with these tests, we are forcing down a metric of conformity upon all.

Perhaps I was a little too harsh there. Yes, there are advantages to a state wide test. It does provide a measure, however rudimentary basic, of the proficiency throughout a school, county, or region. And yes, there may be certain reading or math benchmarks that everyone really should know. But that still doesn’t account for the poorly written test itself.

Another issue, perhaps more pertinent to us, is our more nationalized standardized tests: the SATs, ACTs, PLAN, PSATs, or other odd test you may have taken. Even though they have been intended for perhaps a noble cause, making a benchmark for colleges to look at, it has changed so much since its conception.

These tests, originally thought of as to measure a students ability in school, have spawned a multi-million dollar industry of test preparation, review books, and flashcards galore. It isn’t bad that people are taking the test seriously, rather, it is defeating the purpose. Everyone knows that to get into a good college, you need to score well, so many people just throw their lives into studying and preparing for this, ignoring the more beneficiary ways they could be spending their time. On top of that, there are more social pressures, on the more elite students to do well, but perhaps also on those students who aren’t expected to do so well. I’m not able to speak for them with any sort of authority, but I would imagine that many of them either see the SAT as a hinderance, or something that they aren’t expected to do well in anyways. That kind of negative feedback would likely ruin their interest in learning, as have been deluded by visions of perpetual tests.

Finally, those tests that are haunting me even as I type: the dreaded testing season where in 2 weeks time, you have to regurgitate all the information from the past year. The Advanced Placement subject tests, administered to over half a million students for US History alone. [Lots of data here] But really, what is the point of these tests?

Again, perhaps the original goal of APs were admirable, in providing an outlet for talented students to excel and exert themselves in ways that regular school work would not manage. However, with the onset of swapping test results for credits in schools, to the remarkably fierce nature, bordering on paranoia as the season begins, I couldn’t see the current situation farther from the goals.

Even above that, there is an entirely different concern at play here as well. Beyond just social stigmas, you have got to realize: College Board is making a killing off of these tests.

 87 dollars of almost pure profit from every single test that those poor students are pressured into taking. Thank goodness for relief for poorer students, but that is still a preposterous amount of money to be putting into the coffers of some made-up standard testing some arbitrary skills it deems necessary for students to learn. We pour in so much money to meet their standards, and what do we get out of it as a result? A more compassionate soul? A better person? Even, at the very least, a smarter person? Nay, the AP tests encourage memorization and encourages mindless droll to drill in those “AP approved topics”, so special and important to get that small 5 on a report.

On the economics side, what is the point behind charging an additional 15 dollars just to send off a score? Is there a more clear way of price gouging than right there? And if you add in the fees from your SATs, as well as how people are not only allowed, but blatantly encouraged to take the test over and over again, you can see just why College Board is making some $66 million in profits – while still claiming to be a “non-profit” educational organization.

Returning to a more familiar viewpoint, the limited nature of the College Board really is quite disruptive. Imagine how a good teacher would be able to explore his/her science, or truly delve into their book of choice, even if it wasn’t officially sanctioned! Alas, no teacher dares to do that these days, not without facing reprimendments from the College Board audits, who require the teacher teach straight to the book. Even if that kind of learning may work for baking a cake, that should not have a large impact on how students learn. Learning should be more organic than that!


Overall, the way that we as students, parents, and educators look at tests have changed so much over the past years that it is understandable how much people are being frustrated by school. To face a battery of tests designed to quantify every bit of knowledge that goes through a students head is pretty difficult process, and the price at which it comes from is not likely worth it.

Now does that stop me from rebelling and not take the AP tests? Probably not. I am not that strong in practice; I am also a hypocrite. However, I do believe that if we could reflect on the shortcomings and pitfalls in front of us, perhaps one day we will be able to change the system.

Part of a series on Education

Next: Rant

One thought on “Standardized Tests

  1. Pingback: Broken Chalkboards | seattlechunny

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