Standardized Testing: Helping or Hurting America?

By Adaline Bisese and Summer Williamson

Standardized testing, examples being SOLs and the SAT, are tests designed to measure the achievements and specified knowledge of students in U.S. public schools. They are generalized and particularized for individual subjects taught in school. Administered by each state, they serve as the highly controlling center for many teachers’ curriculums. Recently, It has been brought to question whether these required tests are hurting or helping the students and teachers that take part in them.

Standardized testing is the result of the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which is now titled as the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” or ESSA. Before this act was put into place, schools and their curriculums were unregulated and directed entirely by the teaching staff. The laws required each state to uphold its schools to standards set by the state. Once a school complies with the standards, they recieve aid and compensation from the federal government for special education along with other fees.

One of the requirements for the ESSA is the creation of a standard to test the entirety of the student population. Each state was administered the task of designing a standardized curriculum and test to measure the educational achievements of each school suited to their student demographic. The issue is that it’s impossible to measure an individual’s intelligence and girth of knowledge with a standardized test. Not all individuals work on the same standard, therefore to create tests that include only two or three areas of generalized study can not accurately measure a student, their teacher, or the quality of a school system.

When schools fail to meet the annual standards assigned to them by the state, an improvement plan is implicated upon the underachieving school. The first year a school fails to meet the requirements set by their state, the school is put on an improvement list. When a school neglects to reach the necessary annual progress for a second consecutive year then the students in the school are given the option to transfer to another school. After three years, schools must provide additional assistance to students such as after school tutoring. A fourth year on the list means a school must either change the curriculum, find new staff, hire outside help, or restructure their school along with what is required from the first three years of failure to meet requirements. If a schools fails to meet the requirements for a fifth year in a row, then the school can potentially be privitalized. They are also compelled to lay off their staff, look into charter school management, or become state run.

The ESSA also gives schools money for special education. The schools are given the necessary tools to help their students excel, and in most cases they prove to be beneficially useful. For some students, the federal help is unfelt.

While in his early years of middle school, Adlan Hadjabderrahmane was hospitalized for a little over two months. This resulted in him missing over forty days of school. Once he returned, rather than assisting him with the missed school work and filling the void of education formed in his absence, he was forced to take tests on information he was not taught. When asked what help he was given he responded, “not much [help]; I was just kind of dropped back into it.” He then stated, “My test scores were much lower after I had been out of school. I was an A student, but I never learned basic division. There are still subjects I need to ask for help with after all this time.” His SOL scores were also “noticeably lower,” going from high scores in all tested areas to “barely passing [his] math, history, and science SOLs.”

For the children forced to take these standardized tests, their mental health is at stake as well as their educational opportunities. Students often experience anxiety due to the stress of the test. Depending on the severity, it can affect their ability to think clearing and rationally during the test. This further invalidates the accuracy of the results from mandatory standardized testing, like SOLs.

The students taking these tests are more likely to experience testing anxiety because of their ages. Children and teens can experience symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, and difficulty focusing or breathing during the tests. When asked for a class consensus on their attitude towards tests, many students responded with numerous answers such as “there is too much pressure to focus,” and “I feel anxious over almost every test.” Others said that they have had panic attacks due to tests, and especially because of SOLs.

The students are not the only ones that struggle with SOLs and standardized tests. Educators perhaps feel the intensity of standardized testing more than the students as the results from such tests often weigh on the integrity of their jobs. The learning curriculums developed by the state, which are centered around the SOLs, highly restrict educators’ abilities to liberally teach their students. They are forced to focus only on what the state deems relevant and allow little room and time for teachers to elaborate on matters which they consider to be necessary and applicable to their class.

It can be argued that the structure of the curriculum is a positive element of the educators’ teachings, but our sources claim that the negatives outweigh this consideration. Dr. Williamson, a former teacher of social studies and english, said that she felt as though state provided curriculums “confined her role as a teacher and limited time spent with students.” She says that many of her coworkers often experienced similar feelings towards the matter.

From the standpoint of students and teachers alike, standardized testing has become commonly thought as an inaccurate and inefficient system for testing academic achievement. As with most systems, it could certainly use some restructuring and updating in order to best suit its audience. As the validity of standardized testing rises to question and concern, it should be taken into consideration by the state and federal governments that changes must be implemented to better improve the current model. In conclusion, it is in the best interest of all involved to work towards a system that will improve the education of U.S. citizens.