A junior’s perspective: How standardized testing is taking its toll on students’ outlook

In today’s fiercely competitive college-prep environment, it’s no secret that junior year has quickly become less about enjoying high school while it lasts and more about the academic marathon of preparing for two narrowly specific and equally dreaded events – the SAT and the ACT.

When College Board President David Coleman announced 2016 changes to the content of the SAT, the consensus seemed to be that this new test would solve any and all problems that have arisen as a result of the current one.  Unfortunately, standardized tests, though they have become an educational norm, possess some major concept flaws that cannot be fixed by simply re-writing the material.

Despite the convenient system of scoring that makes the acceptance process easier for universities, today’s for-profit standardized testing system singlehandedly takes the wonder out of learning, replacing old-fashioned ingenuity with corporate ease.

The most recent edition of The Official SAT Study Guide, published in 2009, covers just about every topic that could possibly be mentioned on the test, from misplaced modifiers to quadratic functions, and nearly everything in between.  With ten practice tests and a College Board certification, the book has been marketed as the number one choice of students who plan to take the SAT, and, as the College Board slogan puts it, “achieve more” in life.

If a magical book like this exists, there’s no problem, right?  Can’t we all just read it over the weekend and be totally prepared to take the test the next morning?

Wishful thinking.  Besides the fact that questions are only examples of what could show up on the test, the book is only three pages shy from being a thousand pages long – intimidating at best, and soul-crushingly discouraging at the worst.  It even offers samples from winning essays, scaled on a subjective 1-6 score range, giving test-takers advice on how to write the ‘perfect’ essay by following a strict, almost robotic structure.

“Shakespeare could write an SAT essay and get an absolutely terrible score,” claims James Green, elite tutor and author of The Perfect 12 Manual to the SAT Essay.  “This essay has absolutely nothing to do with writing ability or with intelligence – it’s all about sticking with the format that the test expects and never veering from it for any reason whatsoever.”

Sure, that seems a little unnecessary.  A good portion of the questions on the test might seem unnecessary.  But our central problem is not found in the way the SAT is ordered, scored, or rearranged.  The problem lies at the very heart of the American education system.

We are living in a time in which everything is readily available to us, yet students are too concerned about the number printed on their score sheets to truly appreciate what school has to offer.  Technology, literature, music, science – all of these are disregarded in favor of memorizing tips and tricks that are said to help students up their score and, presumably, get farther in life.

“We have ritually and ceaselessly sucked the fun and wonder out of learning in a country that is pushing kids into adulthood aimless, goalless, robotic, and depressed as a way to feed a system that we now know does not work,” News Editor Ben Collins wrote in an article for Esquire.

If we replace the valuable lessons of the classroom with an all-year test-prep marathon, the almost inevitable result is going to be apathy.

How can a school truly recognize a student’s potential if they choose to rely on the scores printed on transcripts?  By establishing a merit system that is based entirely on standardized test scores, society has done anything but encourage curiosity. It has pitted students against one another in a dog-eat-dog environment that promotes unhealthy competition over the virtues of cooperation that are essential to an effective community.

Today’s standardized tests don’t set the foundation for college preparedness based on a student’s unique skillset, but on whether or not they can define words like ‘acerbity’, or find the slope when a line passes through the points (a, 0) and (0, 2a) when a >1.

Instead of going out into the world and putting our knowledge to a practical use, we sit in stuffy classrooms on Saturday mornings that will be long-forgotten five years from now, and we shade in tiny bubbles on pieces of paper.  And with every one that we fill incorrectly, it seems that our chances of succeeding in life are cast lower and lower down the ladder; that with every formula we forget, the less of a chance we have in landing a stable career.  Though we live in a strikingly imperfect world, the tests we take seek nothing less than perfection, punishing guesses and leaving no room for argument.

If the students of today really are the future of tomorrow, how could it make sense to treat them as nothing more than a number?  It’s well past the time to change the way standardized testing is used as an indicator of future success, both in college and in the life that comes after.

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