During my junior year of high school, my class, the graduating class of 2010, sat down to take our last PSSA exam. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Exam, like most other state administered standardized exams, covers the subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, and now, science, and is administered with the intention of measuring students’ academic standards and how well schools aid and enable students to reach these proficiency standards. It is a painfully dry and boring exam. Junior year, we had three school days where this exam seemingly took over our lives. If you weren’t physically taking the exam, you were mentally distressed about the thought of going back to a desk and filling in a bubble sheet for three hours, or even better, writing a narrative essay about ‘your typical day at school’. For me personally, that subject has never been, and probably never will be one that evokes genuine excitement and interest.
Later that year I was having a conversation with a fellow classmate about our senior year schedules. As I ranted about trying to make sure I had sixth and eighth period free (to have the shortest school day possible), she mentioned how an acquaintance was being required to take an extra reading class in addition to her core requirements in the fall. It turns out a friend of hers made a bold move and filled out the reading portion of her answer sheet in the shape of an elaborate smiley face. While most of us found this defiant move entertaining, the reprimand of having to take an extra class was everyone’s worst nightmare.
An idea that I never had until recently was that maybe this classmate of mine was better off than any of us after pulling off such a stunt. While we lethargically plowed through the questions, succumbing to standardization and believing that our intelligence could be measured by the content in front of us, she wasted no time stressing about the idea that her intelligence would be defined by the pattern of bubbles filled in on a piece of paper. While we waited for our scores to be sent home so we could stigmatize or praise our intelligence according to arbitrary standards, she had the piece of mind and courage to believe that her intelligence could not be measured by a standardized test. In my opinion, she was right.
I have been inspired by Diane Ravitch’s stance on standardized testing. Standardized testing stifles creative and innovative thinking, which are two things that are valuable in our world’s twenty first century. Schools place too much of an emphasis on test scores, and preparing students for these tests, that the classroom no longer inspires creativity and critical thinking in a time when it is needed more than ever. In addition, standardized test scores are used as an indication of school success without taking into consideration any of the challenges that schools and students are facing. The needs of students taking these tests are not taken in to consideration, and because of this, entire schools are affected and in some situations, shut down. We cannot continue to allow standardized testing to be an indication of an individual’s or school’s knowledge and success.