The word "testing" gives many people an uneasy feeling. It evokes nervousness and stress. It forces our minds to think in ways that seek to determine what someone else wants us to know and in what manner we must give it. The thought of testing or thoughts during testing make any creative ideas vanish...there is no room for them. The mind must function in a predetermined manner for success. Information memorized must be rehearsed...allowing no other ideas. The mind is fatigued by the many facts or numbers crammed into it.
Many tests are timed, so those people who are stressed by this component, tremble at the signal of time starting and ending. At the end of the test, the mind may actually try to "forget" the mass of information because the process of testing has fatigued it mentally and physically. Facts not relevant for the current moments of life may be shoved into a miscellaneous file in the brain and may never be retrievable again.
Tests point out what learners get wrong and then penalize them for those wrong answers. Tests rarely allow for later clarification of misunderstandings or for the re-teaching of concepts. Teaching continues on its predetermined path, leaving some students farther and farther behind.
Now move from normal testing to an even greater level of stress for the mind...standardized testing. Standardized tests demand that everyone in a certain grade level learn the same skills, within the same time, in the same way...because they will be required to give the very same answers in order to do well. Everyone must fit into the same box, the same cookie cutter, be the same bolt or screw on the assembly line of education. Bits of isolated, disconnected information must be drilled and drilled, day after day, in hopes of covering possible skills and standards that will be tested. Everyone must become a master of bubbling in answers to multiple choice questions. There is little consideration for growth and development variations...little consideration for cultural differences. Teachers must teach for this test. Instructional time is consumed by preparing for the test.
During the week of standardized testing, everyone will be encouraged to get plenty of sleep at home. Administrators may come in and have pep rallies to keep students alert. Teachers may offer ice-cream sundaes in the afternoons. All types of bribery will be used to coerce students to do well. Students will be told to just think of the test...put everything else out of their minds.
The young girl who comes to school distressed because her dog was killed that morning by a car will be told to "get focused" on the test. The boy whose father left their home after a divorce will try to push his hurt feelings aside, but finds he cannot concentrate hour after hour and soon just guesses. A boy who is very bright in the field of mathematics is confused by the way the questions are stated. He wants to ask for clarification, but can't. He gets highly frustrated and becomes unable to continue for a while...yet the time is ticking away. A student gets very confused trying to comprehend one story after the other...one about a railroad, one about a chemical reaction, one about a bread factory, one about a gender differences. They go on and on...one random topic after the other.
At kindergarten level, the young student feels ready to answer questions about animals. He loves animals and thinks he will know the answers. His class has studied forest animals, farm animals, and pets. The class has a goldfish and hamster. He knows a lot about those animals. As the teacher reads the standardized test questions, his heart sinks. Surprisingly, all three questions are about sea otters...How do sea otters sleep? What do sea otters eat? How do sea otters take care of their young? He starts to cry.
A third grader in a community of intense violence and crime reads this standardized test question:
A boy wakes up and hears popping sounds downstairs. The popping sounds probably are:
(a)traffic outside (b)bacon frying (c) an alarm clock.
The correct answer is "bacon frying," but because this child has never awakened to bacon frying, he assumes the popping sounds are gunfire. He looks for an answer with the word "gun," but does not see it. He marks "traffic outside" and of course that is incorrect.
A student tries to concentrate on the math part of the test. Her mind becomes weary and confused by trying to think about so many topics at one time. Questions are about: adding fractions, multiplying fractions, dividing fractions, graphs, volume, perimeter, angles, mode, median, mean, probability, equivalents, decimals, rates, ratios...She can't keep it all straight in her mind.
The educational and political establishments would have you to believe that scores will tell us who is smart and who is not...which teachers are proficient and which are not...the schools that are excellent and the ones that are not...that quantitative data...numbers and more numbers will inform us of success.
Standardized testing should not have the overwhelming influence on education that it does. A good teacher knows when her/his students are doing well. Good teachers can create a curriculum and assessments that meet the needs of their students. Good teachers know effective strategies that give time for growth and development, allow for emotional distresses, and provide a secure environment for teaching and learning...an environment that opens the mind...not closes it.