Moving beyond standardized tests

How often do we stop to consider the practical uses of standardized exams?

In today’s society, our fate is decided with nothing more than a pencil, booklet and scantron. In recent years, we have seen elementary school and middle school students struggle through TAKS and STAAR. In high school, we endured the SAT and the ACT. Some of us also tackled the AP exam.

At the end of the day, our lives were geared toward the mastery of multiple choice testing.

But how much do we learn as a result of this form of testing and preparation?

According to the National Research Council‘s study of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), “Negative consequences include narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession and undermining student engagement and school climate.”

It also found that NCLB “disproportionately penalized low-income and minority students, along with English language learners and the disabled.”

It is clear we can do better in measuring the success of America’s public education, but it seems like standardized testing shows little signs of slowing down.

The STAAR test only replaced the TAKS test. Moreover, both the SAT and MCAT were modified in the last few years.

To top off this madness, most high school and college classes evaluate students in the same multiple-choice format. As students, we spend so much energy cramming information for one test that it enhances our ability to memorize while destroying our ability to comprehend.

“Such methods of testing tend to tunnel a student’s vision of learning instead of enhancing it,” said Katherine Perez, an electrical engineering junior. “As an engineer, my understanding of the process matters more than whether I am simply capable of getting the right answer. Instead of learning to better ourselves, these tests make us learn for a grade.”

Essentially, standardized testing was designed to enhance one’s learning experience.

“Part of the problem is, sometimes, we get so focused on teaching to a test, because it provides concrete results and is easy to assess,” said Melanie Rudd, an assistant business professor. “However, it destroys classroom learning and it doesn’t do a good job preparing students for the real world.”

In the real world, we must solve problems by applying our knowledge in difficult situations. Memorizing is only half the battle.

For instance, an actor who simply memorizes his lines may get the job done, but he may still be ineffective. When the actor adds depth to each line, with an emotional and intuitive understanding of the script, he delivers a stellar performance.

That is why schools must learn to prepare students through emphasis of real world application. It adds meaning and depth to the knowledge they acquire. It reminds the learner that there is a method behind the madness.

Only a few weeks ago, President Barrack Obama expressed his own form of disappointment with standardized testing.

“Learning is about so much more than filling the right bubble,” Obama said in a statement on Facebook. “When I look back at the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they thought me to believe in myself. That’s what good teaching is.”

We cannot expect students to learn properly with standardized testing. Instead, we must teach students by enabling and facilitating their understanding of the purposes behind the lessons.

Once a student has purpose, they are bound to not only learn but also become exceptional rather than standardized in their thinking.

Opinion columnist Krishna Narra is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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