Standardized Tests: Helpful or Harmful

Samantha Liu

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Finally, things like the PSATs, last-minute cramming, and a whole lot of student tears draw to an end… only to be followed by another three months of preparation for about a dozen more generic acronyms for more tests that I can’t even name. After observing my brother suffer through all the crises of junior year, I can safely say I’ve witnessed some of the most brutal side effects that come with the enforcement of standardized tests.


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 mandated standardized testing in all fifty states, intending to create a fair basis across which all students could be judged. Today, test scores are a significant factor in evaluating a teacher’s ability. But more often than not, students only view standardized testing as an unnecessary burden that comes around annually. Standardized tests are therefore more harmful than helpful because they fail to shape what is most important to the American education system: creativity, curiosity, and the innovative thinking for which we have always strove.


Today students and schools alike are primarily judged by their performance in high-stakes assessments, like the SATs. While for schools, standardized tests determine rankings and competitiveness, they decide college acceptances and overall futures of students. So most schools hoping to acquire  prestige through test scores must turn to “teaching to the test.” In other words, due to the weight standardized tests hold, schools must modify their curriculum to teach solely what assessments measure. This kind of curriculum leaves little room for more creative activities, where students could learn cooperation or gain awareness about the actual world. Nabeeha Mamun ‘22 claims it “creates an artificial learning environment, where we’re forced to learn and attempt to memorize every fact the College Board wants.”


Not only does standardized testing create an exceptionally narrow curriculum, but it also fails to teach some of the most meaningful aspects that make up an American education. America is unique in its constant iconoclastic education system that values more abstract concepts. Americans  shudder at the idea of rote memorization and instead emphasize the importance of thinking outside the box. Students are encouraged to explore their passion and do what interests them, hence the wide range of courses offered at just a middle school level. Yet, standardized tests seem to undermine these exact ideals. Test-based teaching isn’t going to cultivate students’ creativity or their  process of questioning and learning about something that interests them personally. In addition, a multiple choice test will not measure a student’s enthusiasm or cooperation. Instead, it turns a rising generation of critical-thinkers and innovators into drilled soldiers who can only spew out irrelevant facts about oxidative phosphorylation.


Besides their negative impact on schools themselves, these high-stakes standardized tests are also the root of severe stress in students. Especially in competitive school districts, when standardized tests are half of what determines your future success, how can they not be feared? So during spring break, two weeks before the subject SATs, tutoring sessions replace vacations and Princeton Review textbooks replace pina coladas. Ridge sophomore Amanda Zhao complains with a groan,“my last spring break was all studying for Bio SAT’s and this year it’s going to be for Chem and AP tests. It’s just so annoying.”


While they should not be discontinued entirely, we should instead use a variety of factors to judge students and schools. Firsthand testimonies like a teacher’s recommendation letter and interviews are  some ways to truly understand and evaluate what a student’s personality Only through how their students are disciplined can we then judge a school’s learning environment. Perhaps this will take more time than simply reading a score off a paper, it is the only way to truly get to know a student and their school. Nonetheless, to truly find and create the most forward-thinking and promising new generation, a two-hour multiple choice exam probably isn’t going to do it.

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