Increased Testing Only Leads to Sharper Pencils, Not Sharper Minds

03/04/2015 12:31 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2015

My typical school schedule has recently been interrupted by the state standardized testing that is taking place for juniors, sophomores and freshmen. Though I simply do not have seminar in my day anymore, the underclassmen are severely affected as they are forced to take the first round of a new test -- PARCC, as they are called -- and miss an entire day's worth of schooling. Of course, I had to miss a class every day for two weeks on account of testing seniors had to take in the fall, so I really have no pity for these underclassmen. But seeing the juniors' anger in my calculus class, and hearing my debate partner speaking about an uprising against these tests brings back all the old frustration I had back in the fall.


Around the time I was taking those tests, I vented my irritation by writing a mock bill for a simulated congress event I partake in with my debate team; I would later extend that bill into a more detailed proposition in my AP Government class. The bill had a very radical premise: completely remove standardized testing from the United States. I backed up my ideals with plenty of research, of course, and, as a result, I became very knowledgeable on the topic of standardized testing.

Like many of the students that simply mutter off expletives about standardized testing, before I did my research, I had little knowledge on why exactly we were all taking these exams. The reason, I have found, comes down to four little words: No Child Left Behind. A piece of legislation that is by no means little. Passed in 2001 by President Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act was approved to help disadvantaged students and school districts.

Similar to many of the bills in Congress, this one stretched to beyond one thousand pages. There are a plethora of sections regarding increasing accountability for teachers, addressing students with disabilities, helping struggling schools, and more. The bill, I admit, has all the right ethics of successful legislation. But isn't that the case for all congressional bills?

The statute falls flat with the introduction of standardized testing determining a school's academic performance. After being passed, it was required that students be tested annually in grades 3 through 8, once in grades 10 through 12, and be testing in science one time each in elementary, middle, and high school. How schools perform on these tests then decides how much money they receive from the government.

Here's where this idea did not take too sharply: schools that can afford to do so are purchasing materials from testing companies to perform on these tests, leaving poorer schools--the ones this legislation was to supposed to help--in the dust. Any high schooler in the testing world today is familiar with the Pearson testing company brand. In early 2000, however, this company was barely starting out. After the No Child Left Behind Act came through, Pearson quickly grew. Today, the testing King has a 32 million dollar contract to provide standardized tests to New York for five years, and another 500 million dollar deal with Texas. McGraw Hill, another testing giant, sweeps in revenues in excess of 2 billion dollars for its California Achievement and TerraNova tests.

As these testing companies grow fat and wealthy, where are the students left?

I'm not going to read off all the statistics on how no student or teacher benefits from testing. I don't need to. I have my own first-hand experience. After my education was disrupted for an entire two weeks, and I was required to miss a class every day for those two weeks, I know directly what a detriment testing has on education. And, I mean a real education. One where students are actually engaged and learning, not simply studying or cramming to get that perfect score.

With the testing going on right now for the juniors, I am reminded again what a drain they have on direct contact time. This Wednesday, students that are not testing -- which includes most of the junior and senior class -- will not have to come into school until 12:10 in the afternoon. An entire day of school gone for tests that we have been told will not even count for the school. The same is true everywhere, though. Former Texas State Senator Ted Lyon states that students spend between 29 and 45 days a year taking tests. A quarter of the year gone because of testing. Tennessee students lose an entire six weeks as well.

But this doesn't just affect the students' time. Teachers are no happier to proctor and administer these exams than the students are to take them. My calculus teacher was talking today about how in a few years, once these PARCC tests have been distributed for a few years, 80 percent of her evaluation will be based on this one single test. Believing my calculus teacher to be one of the greatest educators I have ever had, and hearing stories from fellow students about how they are simply typing in random answers for the test, I know this is the greatest injustice of all. To think that someone will be evaluated on something they have no control over or, even worse, something that is not even a true testament to their skills and dedication, is alarming.

Though there will always be educators and professionals that believe standardized tests show a student's true ability, I always go back to a quote by Einstein: "If you ask a fish to climb a tree, he will go his whole life believing he is stupid." The same is true for standardized testing. Regardless of all the money, resources and time wasted, despite all the frustration and false teacher evaluations, it must be remembered that some kids may excel on tests, and others won't. Primary and secondary education is a time for students to mature and find what they love and are good at, a time to find what they want to invest their time and hard work into, not a time to find they are not any good at filling in bubbles.