Standardized Testing: No Equality
The controversial debate of standardized testing is not a new one. Standardized testing was introduced in the United States in the early 1900s, and immediately the conversation began of what to use it for and how much emphasis to put on it. At this point, we are no strangers to standardized testing. We grew up taking our state assessments, then when it came time to start applying to colleges, many of us were required to take the SATs. Anyone pursuing graduate school may now have to take the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, or some other standardized test. The question many are asking is: why? Why do we put so much emphasis on one test? How much does this one score actually account for? To answer these questions, we need to look back at past legislatures.
In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush. Establishing this law was intended to increase the performance of all students, but particularly minority students. The law was intended to best suit students in poverty, students of color, students in special education, and students who are English language learners. This act affected both elementary and secondary schools. Curriculum was significantly changed as a result of this law. In addition, federal regulation of schools increased exponentially in the United States. Standardized tests became required to demonstrate whether states were able to make progress in having all students meet the “proficient” level in academics. This law also raised the standards required for teacher certification, which ensured that teachers in the classroom were highly qualified.
From the outside, this law seemed like a great solution to the education problems our country faces. However, this actually did nothing to help close the education gap. More pressure was put on teachers to produce higher test scores, as these standardized tests were used to evaluate not just the students, but their teachers, their schools, and their states. Many schools have started teaching to the test to achieve high enough scores to prevent teachers from getting fired or entire schools from closing down. This means that teachers drop other important content areas and instead start teaching students to memorize what they need to pass these standardized tests. When teachers teach just to test, students miss out on the passion and creativity of being learners. Non-educators think this is a price worth paying if it means that the education gap is closed and students perform well on standardized tests, showing an adequate portrayal of where they are in their learning.
Even with all this sacrifice, this belief is false. The education gap never closed from the NCLB Act, nor did it close with any of the other numerous education reforms put in place. There is still an education gap for minority students and students in poverty. Naturally, pressure has always been placed on the teachers to fix this gaping problem in education. However, there is only so much that can be done during the school day, and system-wide changes need to be enacted at the community level to properly help these students.
Another argument made by supporters of the current system is that, even though these tests may not benefit all students, they still help to show what level a student is working at and predict their future success. This idea is also incorrect. Students spend approximately 28 percent of instructional time preparing for testing. This is a monumental amount of time for something that should not be considered so highly. The only thing that standardized tests determine is which students are good at taking tests, which causes damaging effects and anxiety due to immense pressure. Standardized testing can only evaluate some level of knowledge of math, science, and english. Taking these tests does not evaluate creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, or artistic ability. Further, they cannot evaluate any other knowledge areas that can’t be graded on a scoring sheet with bubbles and a pencil. In fact, several studies have found that GPA is a much stronger predictor of student success. It shows a more consistent profile of the learner, and there are more than just assessments that go into these grades.
It is important that a learner is so much more than whether they choose A or B. They are complex people with unique strengths and skills. Teacher efforts will be far better spent teaching to help their students learn rather than to test. Each student has their own interests and curiosities that should not be bogged down by a school’s need to perform well, or a teacher’s fear that they will lose their job if they don’t teach students to memorize strictly what’s on the test. When it comes to education, sacrificing creativity to appease government officials and huge testing corporations—who have no experience of what it is actually like to teach in a school—is not a sacrifice we should be willing to make. It is time to look at the research and realize we need to make significant, systematic changes in the way we view assessment in education. In the end, we’re only failing the ones we designed this to support: the students.
The Fire is Catching: If the Books Burn, You Will Not Understand This Reference
Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian future may seem unfathomable, but modern society is inching closer to throwing books into the fire. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is one of the many recent examples of censoring curricula with the Stop Woke Act and installing conservative leadership at the New College of Florida. This problem, however, is not unique to Florida. As part of the Providence College community, each one of us is at the center of the debate between academic freedom and personal convictions. As an institution of higher education, the College does not have to question if certain topics are age-appropriate, but no one should take this freedom for granted since new arguments are gaining traction.
Reading should make one feel uncomfortable. A true work of literature pushes the reader to think beyond the confines of their own experience and leap into an unfamiliar world. Students should have the opportunity to explore their interests freely through the world of literature instead of operating within the boundaries of ideology. The new AP African American Studies curriculum bans authors such as bell hooks and Angela Davis simply to cater to the supporters of the right-wing agenda like Governor DeSantis. This does not serve as a valid justification for banning texts from the classroom.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many influential politicians, history cannot be erased. Even if the government mandates that racism cannot be discussed in the classroom, the impacts of such systems permeate American society to this day. Ignoring the discussion does not change the fact that several of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.
While many parents of K-12 students push back against certain texts for including graphic content, in the age of social media, explicit content is only a search away. 82 percent of the challenges made against certain content involved books while only two percent involved films in 2021 according to the American Library Association. Even though films often depict sexual content, violence, and injustice more graphically by nature, the data demonstrates that the public is more concerned about books. Introducing difficult concepts like sexual assault and violence in a constructive classroom setting is much more productive than a child witnessing it in a YouTube video or Instagram post.
The logic behind the argument for banning books is inherently flawed in its nature. If one considers any discussion of violence worthy of a ban, then the Bible, by this logic, should be banned from libraries and the classroom. However, the targets of book bans are texts such as The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give. The argument is not about violence; the argument has never been about violence. If the argument was about shielding children from violence, the people calling for book bans would work to prevent guns from entering schools instead.
If books could indoctrinate the masses, then Hitler’s Mein Kampf would appear on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books more often than The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Of course, reading can shape one’s outlook on the world, but it does not produce individuals who blindly follow the words of one mind. In fact, reading creates well-rounded individuals capable of developing their own thoughts and opinions, which is the purpose of the entire education system.
If Americans read more books instead of scrolling through their social media feeds, the country would be better for it. With education being such a highly sought-after commodity, the nation should encourage intense critical thinking instead of close-minded ideological reassurance.