High-Stakes Testing: A Student's Point of View

This week, my school in Place-You've-Never-Heard-Of, California, began administering the California Standardized Tests (CSTs). This year is different for me than in previous years because, instead of just testing in math and language arts, we are also taking tests for science and social studies. Unfortunately, I was not very satisfied with my education this year. We had a textbook, but we never really read much in it, and instead focused on a limited assortment of principles. I never really understood why we focused on such a limited spectrum of information, but I just ran with it.

Then came the CSTs. I was really worried about how prepared I was, so I stayed up the night before the test studying the book, especially the things we had not had the chance to go over. The next day, by the time I had got to about question ten, I realized that the things we had gone over in class, and only the things we had gone over in class, were on the test. There had been no reason for me to stay up the previous night studying so hard, which I'll admit, was quite an irritating realization.

We learned only what was required to score well on the CSTs: there are things we never covered or never went into depth about in our books. Critics of standardized tests have listed the above dillema and others as reasons to change the way we use and administer these tests. I have noted other problems with these high-stakes tests in the past. Today, I have taken the time to put together a list of...

My Grievances with CSTs ~

The Tests' Overall Importance: Students

I have had many teachers over the years. They have all told me to do my best and take the test seriously, but then some have told me that these tests are very important and have a direct bearing over our class placements. I have indeed taken the advice of my teachers and done the best I can do on these tests, and for the past several years have attained the advanced rating. However, both with myself and others, I have not actually noticed these test scores being put to any kind of use in the placing of students in classes, or in anything else.

Now, I do know that these tests supposedly reflect upon the performance of the student's teacher and on their own learning capability. However, I don't see the sense in putting the students through the conditions of these tests if it does not in some way benefit the students. 

Teachers and the Tests

Teachers are judged in large part by the performance of their students. This then brings up another problem with these tests. Every person has their limits, and once a student has reached their limit, there is little one can do to get them to go over it or to do any better. A certain group of students may be placed with a great teacher, but yet, they still perform poorly on tests. Why would this be?

It seems that some people jump to the conclusion that, if a student is doing poorly on assignments and tests, the student simply isn't paying enough attention to the teacher during class. The focus the student has during the lesson does have a bearing on how well they perform on their own, but it is not always the reason for inadequate performance. Some students just have difficulty comprehending certain concepts or subjects. These problems can be solved by a bit of extra explanation to the student, or even by having another student/individual explaining it a different way. Then, coming back to the standardized tests, some students just do not test well, generally due to stress. There isn't always a way of dealing with this problem, but trying to help the student better-manage stress is a good way of trying.

But with all of these possible reasons for performance, the teacher still almost always gets the rap for it. This just doesn't seem right. If a student just can't grasp a concept or gets a complete mental block during a test, there isn't much a teacher can do about it. These tests can show how well a teacher has taught, but it isn't always the best way to.

Effects on Administrators

Administrators are put under a lot of pressure. If a school as a whole performs poorly, first the administrators can be removed, then the teachers can be removed, and eventually, the state can take over the school, thanks to the "wonderful" No Child Left Behind.

About five or ten minutes before we were to begin the examination, our vice principal came on the intercom and told us of the extreme importance of these tests. Not that bad, right? Well, the vice principal proceeded to tell the students that, of the 15 or 16 other area schools we are compared to, we were ranked towards the middle, and that we had to try to surpass the schools ahead of us. We were then told the names of the schools that were "beating" us in test scores, and even the ones we were ahead of.

Okay, it's not that I'm saying that competition is bad overall. However, on a test, especially one like this, I don't think this is a good viewpoint to preach to the students. Especially when it comes to tests, you can really only do the best you can do; the administrators can't expect or force us to do any better. I liked the way the rest of our teachers were preparing us: take the tests seriously, do your best, and don't stress out about them. Well, thank you, vice principal, for doing such a great job of not psyching us out on these tests.

Student Pressure

I'll be the first to admit: when it comes to tests, I generally get extremely worried and am almost sure that I will fail. Then consider the high-stakes aspect of the standards tests. How we perform on these tests affects the funding of our schools and what programs we are allowed to keep. And something tells me that I wouldn't like two hours of English and two hours of math a day. Then people like my vice principal come along and tell us that we just have to perform excellently. Dude! Be glad I haven't run out of the classroom screaming! These tests don't test our knowledge as much as they test how well students perform while under pressure.

~ Fin ~

Those are my grievances with the California Standardized Tests. I am very sorry that this was so long, but thank you for persevering through my griping.