End standardized testing; protect students’ mental health

Lauren Rupsis, Staff Reporter

This past April, twenty students in India committed suicide after hearing their standardized test results. However, the results were altered due to an error in the software solutions firm, Globarena Technologies Private Limited. There is overblown importance on these tests that needs to be stopped.

Just about one million students took the exam and about three hundred fifty thousand failed. One student that failed actually set herself on fire, where another nineteen committed suicide other ways. 

India’s education system has been criticized due to its extremely high expectations of students. The National Crime Record Bureau showed that thousands of Indian children commit suicide every year. In 2015, there were about nine thousand suicides from young people in India.

I agree that the pressure that is put on students based on test scores has exceeded unhealthy levels, not just in India, but everywhere. Standardized testing should end because they are designed to a general standard and they do not work for everyone, however, they are used to determine student’s futures anyways, which ultimately causes students to have mental issues. 

These health issues can be as dangerous as resulting in the suicides that have recently been seen in India.

Standardized testing has been around for about one-hundred-fifty years. I am startled that this academic measurement with such negative impact and real harm could be accepted in so many education systems for this long. 

Dawn Neely-Randall, a teacher at a school in Ohio, reported that in 2014, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, students had to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test on top of the standard Ohio Achievement Tests. This equaled to almost eight hours of testing in a week for young students. She discussed one student’s experience.

“She had a complete meltdown… And I could do nothing to help her, I couldn’t help her with the test. I could just let her take a little break then, but then she was going to run out of time, and she was watching the clock, she knew,” Neely-Randall explained.

Standardized testing is dated all the way back to 1838 when American educators decided that students’ achievements should be formally assessed. Between 1840 and 1875, written tests started to replace oral exams as schools became open to the public as opposed to just the higher class. New testing was developed to measure mental ability and determine students’ preparation for college. 

The changes in education brought out more and more of these tests because people liked to measure student’s knowledge in an accessible way. The goal here was to expand education, although I feel that the birth of these tests did completely the opposite. 

In 1914, the National Education Association pushed standardized testing on many schools. There were over one hundred standardized tests by 1918 in the elementary and secondary school subjects. With the success flourishing in these tests, the first Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) came out in 1926 founded by the College Board. The test originated as a three hundred fifteen questions in an hour and a half with vocabulary and basic math.

Today, many standardized tests are available to students. The SAT and ACT are popular tests to encounter before college. There are also SAT II tests and Advanced Placement examinations. 

The purpose of these tests is to be able to easily compare students by a standard numerical value that is equal among each other. It is a consistent measurement that is easy to see and rank intelligence, according to the people supporting these tests. The data from standardized assessments are easy to track and record the same skill-sets in every student.

Although these tests may sound appealing, their usefulness has been outlived.  They have become counterproductive because students now are developing in so many unique ways that a general standard does not work for the different ways of comprehension and for all future paths in life after school. Not to mention the effects these tests have on the mental health of students. 

These tests cause more harm than good for students since they are designed to a general standard so they do not work for everyone. A standard is something considered by an authority as a basis of comparison that is for an average. They do not take into consideration people’s diversity, unique traits, and learning styles.

The questions do not evaluate creative thinking. A student can be very smart with a creative mind, but those ideas are not able to be looked at in these tests. Education researcher, Gerald W. Bracey, says that the test can’t measure creativity, critical thinking, resilience, persistence, curiosity, self-discipline, leadership, honesty, integrity, etc, which all make education meaningful and impact intelligence.

They also do not work for kids who don’t speak English or have special needs. There are typically only a few modifications for them through the Individualized Education Plans. These people take the same tests as other children which could not possibly be fair.

“If you judge a fish by its ‘ability’ to climb a tree, it will spend its entire life believing it’s stupid,” Albert Einstein once said.  

The shame that children feel is a consequence of the perpetuation of standardized testing in today’s culture. A child should not feel dumb because they can’t excel in a test that works for everyone. It clearly does not. 

These tests can additionally have errors like the one in India. Parents made many protests about the situation since students were failing the exams even when in reality, they did not. They were marked absent or given incorrect marks even when they were present and got answers correct. Parents placed blame on the Board of Intermediate Education and the Telangana government.

Furthermore, these tests lead to mental issues such as anxiety and depression because they are so worried about not doing well on these tests and are then also dispirited by the results; just like the children in India.

“Illustrating how testing… produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both… On Mar. 14, 2002, the Sacramento Bee reported that test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it,”  Education researcher, Gregory J. Cizek, stated.

Mental illnesses are no joke and they happen to so many students every day because of tests like these which undermine learning in a way that hurts brain development in young people. People should not feel the need to commit suicide over test scores.

So how do we fix this problem? I believe there are many different ways to see children’s learning ability, knowledge, and growth. These can be seen in student portfolios, district-wide tests that evaluate a school instead of the student, documentation of student work, or tests that are performance-based and involve assessment of real learning tasks from the curriculum.

Finland uses these similar techniques as opposed to standardized testing and they do very well in international comparisons. In fact, they topped the PISA rankings from 2001-2008 without standardized tests according to researchers.

These different examinations will demonstrate more than just narrow-minded questions and quick knowledge, but will be thought-provoking and demonstrate the purpose of knowledge. We are in an age where people’s futures are very varied. Some people may want to be apart of performing arts and some may want to be scientists, so a standard can’t attest to everyone’s needs. They need to adhere to people’s many differences. 

Also, the exams won’t reflect students entire future, but be a very small part along with portfolios of work and other documentation. A number will no longer be students fate for life after high school, but a piece along with tests that are more reasonable for all people of different unique traits and learning styles.

I believe that standardized tests need to be gone. Students will no longer be held up to a standard. 

Students will no longer have their future determined by a number. 

Students will no longer feel stupid, dumb, and/or unintelligent because of a test grade.

Students will no longer be disheartened or have suicidal thoughts because of a test.

Students will now be able to gain real knowledge and be able to be fairly examined with more than just these test grades so that they work for everyone. Students will learn to appreciate learning and the measuring of their success again, not the comparison of them to a standard. There is no standard anymore, just a lot of very different students who are educated and intelligent and that is what should be displayed.