Standardized Tests: The Scourge of School

“Holbrook agues that asking students to dissect poems isn’t an effective way to teach them about the joys of literature.”

I remember as a teacher, seeing more than a few questions on standardized tests that were biased regarding culture and those that had no answer, or multiple answers. It is so common that during testing that teachers are asked to make note of these if they arise. This is a little tricky, because we’re also not allowed to look at the tests and children are so hardwired to stay quiet and focused on the test, that they may never raise a hand if they have an issue. They would simply revert to what they have been trained to do: “just do your best.”

In a recent article from the LA Times, poet Sara Holbrook, was stumped by questions on a Texas state standardized test regarding her own poems. According to Holbrook, any of the questions could be correct, “…but climbing into the test maker’s mind, I’m guessing they want the answer C. … Not sure,” and like many of the children who would be taking the test, she chose C and moved on.

Here’s the poem in question:


What does this say about the validity of tests?

Are they effective ways to assess children’s knowledge? Of course not and have never been, yet they continue to be used. Why is this? It all boils down to money. In any factory or corporation, you spend the least you have to to get the biggest bang for your buck. In this case, standardized tests are cheap and easy for those in power. It has nothing to do with children, or teachers, or even education at all.

Some may argue that we need to be able to take standardized tests to enter esteemed colleges and universities and while that’s true, any college that admits a child based solely on a test score is not an esteemed college or university, but rather another cog in the wheel of the factory school. The esteemed schools require much more including essays, letters of recommendation, extra-curricular activities, portfolios, etc.

The test is simply part of the whole.

Sadly, this is not the case for students in a public school setting.

Right now, in many of the so-called high-achieving public schools schools, students are wasting time in most of their classes practicing for the upcoming tests. They’re not supposed to be, but they do. Every paper they write and have written this year has been written in a format the teachers know will at least hit a level of proficiency on the tests. Every standard they’ve emphasized in their lessons are standards they assume will be covered. Some even use exact examples from previous tests for in-class work and design all in-class tests based on the standardized test model.

Right now, many children are languishing over essays, practicing to get them perfect for the tests this month, while the sun shines outside the windows and the warm temperatures have them dreaming of being anywhere but in the classroom.

Is this really the learning we want for our children? Is this really the training we want for our country? Do we really want children to believe that tests matter when they don’t even exist in the real world, outside of schools.

Further, like Holbrook stated in the article, dissecting poems is not an effective way to teach children about the joys of literature and the key word here is joy. Joy cannot be trained or faced, or compartmentalized into a method. It is felt when we experience something pleasant – which poetry and literature aim to be. Unfortunately, the teach-to-the-test method has ruined the love of reading and writing for many in my generation and certainly for younger children. As a mother, I was hard pressed to even get my sons to sit down to let me read books to them after they started school, while before that, they asked me to read to them all the time.

School killed their joy in reading.

In addition to this, the conditions under which these children take these tests is appalling. They spend hours a day sitting in one place, knowing that while the teachers say, “do your best,” they’ve heard all year how important the tests are. Many have heard how their schools are “failing,” because of test scores and still others are holding the weight of continued “excellence” on their shoulders because of test scores. Learning and retention are drastically hampered in such high-anxiety situations.

What are schools to do?

Schools are attempting the impossible: to educate the masses. It’s not possible to do this effectively, at least not with the methods they use.

We need more teachers and fewer students per classroom. We also need heterogeneous groups that are more conducive to real life experience.

It’s my opinion that the reward ceremonies attached to standardized testing should be done away with. For one thing, it’s too totalitarian in feeling and for another, students get awards for tests they took the year before. They honestly couldn’t care less about the award. Let them move on to real learning, rather than beginning another year with the thought of tests…..but then again, considering a factory system, the end product must be considered at the front, right?


I feel for children in schools. I really do. I think it’s sad that adults in America have been so well-trained that they actually believe there is no other way to be educated than to corral children onto buses and then divide them based on ability, and further corral them into groups with others like them, and then close them away all day in a building in order to “learn.”

How did we allow this? And make no mistake about it, we definitely allowed this. While adults are worried about paying off homes with hefty mortgages and buying more of what they don’t need, our children are being brainwashed to follow suit…within the schools that teach them nothing more than to believe that those in power have the answers and every one else is to do what they’re told, even when there really is no validity to any of it.

It brings to mind a certain psychological experiment involving a button and electric shock…and that’s all I have to say about that.






2 Comments on “Standardized Tests: The Scourge of School

  1. We are in the throws of testing this month and this article is very helpful to calmly put things into perspective. Thank you. You are right, the tests are just another controlling method used to kill any joy of learning.


    • Can I just say this? I’m so happy the kiddos have you!!! Are you a teacher, or a parent or both? It’s awesome for the kids to have adults who GET IT. Good on you! 🙌🏼


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