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Standardized testing creates standard students

Ernest Owens, originally from Chicago, Illinois, is a Communication & Public Service major at the University of Pennsylvania. He serves as a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian, broadcasts his hit radio show “Ernestly Speaking!” on, and is an elected student government representative at UPenn.

Written by Ernest Owens

“There was a time when kids used to go outside and actually pick up bugs,” my mother said to me when I was in high school. “We used to have museum field trips and have volcano projects…I guess you guys don’t have time for that anymore.”

And she was right. What caused such a dichotomy from the 1980s school classroom and that of today? What dismissed the bug picking and museum field trips? Standardized testing? Bingo.

Standardized testing, for all of its proposed grandeur, has failed to succeed in its primary purpose and it will fail in the educational enrichment of American public schools.

Firstly, the purpose for standardized testing is simple: to facilitate the absorption of the basic educational requirements in order to ensure that every student graduates with common knowledge. And that mission is plausible. However, out of the host of problems that standardized testing brings to the table, I want to talk about one in particular: Where is the creativity that once existed in education, and when will teachers have the freedom to nurture skills like creativity, critical thinking and collaboration?

Growing up primarily in the Houston public school system, I remember seeing my teacher follow TEKS, the set of daily applications teachers had to incorporate in their lessons for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. These applications were restrictive and did not allow her to be the best educator she could be. When someone in the class asked one day if our class could go to the NASA Space Center to see the new Mars exhibition, we were all given an unfortunate rejection. “It doesn’t fit the curriculum,” she replied sadly. Instead, we sat bored and agitated watching a quick 30 minute Magic School Bus episode and that was the end of our discussion on space.

For most of my pre-college experience, I resented many of my teachers for being so restricting in how they taught. I remember growing up and reading the Roald Dahl novel “Matilda” and wanting my teachers to be just like Miss Honey. But instead they were Miss Trunchbulls when it came to keeping us cooped away in classrooms with hardly any exploration.

It wasn’t until my 8th grade year when I heard my history teacher slip out a profanity before we left class. Being the brat that I was during the time, I had to call him out on it. But then I realized that he was frustrated with the system in general and I sat astonished.

“I didn’t graduate from college to do this,” he spat. “I want to teach kids, not dictate them for a paycheck.”

I didn’t understand what he actually meant then, but today it makes so much sense. As a student mentor for Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP) in Philadelphia, I continue to see the disparity that takes place in the lives of youth in public education. The lack of exposure they get to have growing up in a time in their lives when it is very necessary. The reduced experiences that they won’t be able to encounter, simply because it isn’t in the curriculum, are vast.

And that is the problem with standardized testing, the fact that education has now become a manufactured process rather than a loving enrichment. Yes, students might be able to complete basic math and science problems on paper, but they will also become small robots regurgitating facts and lacking the motivation and concern to apply them to the real world.

Standardized testing eliminates creativity on both the student’s part and the teacher’s. Students are only able to express their efforts based on the much reduced expectations given to them, while teachers are forced to put aside the very superb skills they were hired for in the first place. While the government dictates the public school system, they fail to acknowledge the actual direct people involved. There has to be a better way.

Why is this important? Because if we encourage our youth to go to college, they have to start getting ready today. Life is not a multiple choice booklet that requires one answer only with a No. 2 pencil. Life is open-ended, filled with versatility and intrigue. Standardized testing does not give students this reality and thus makes the curriculum ineffective. I base this rationale on the following mantra: you can teach someone the facts, but if they can’t apply them, it’s useless. Let’s not standardize the future of the world but allow them to be as curious and open-minded as the society we want them to thrive in.

Please leave some thoughts in the comment box below! Help us get some conversation going on this important issue. You can also tweet at the author at @MrErnestOwens and at One World Youth Project at @owyp.

More of Ernest Owens addressing the hot issue of standardized testing:

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2 Responses to “Standardized testing creates standard students”

  1. Hey! Check out my new guest column for One World Youth Project (OWYP)! It's an interesting read! Get inspired! Let's start a discussion on standardized testing!

  2. I actually don't think we should eliminate standardized testing- it does a very good job of making sure that all students who pass have a common base of knowledge, as Ernest pointed out early on in the article. Instead, I think it's important to focus on the way we prepare students to take these exams. The goal used to be for exams to be tailored to test what we want students to learn. Now, the system has shifted to one in which teachers have to change their curriculum to fit the exams that already exist. It's a small change from a management perspective, but one that would have a large impact.

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