SAT Testing May Be Detrimental

Education might be the most confounding institution in America. Politicians from both parties highlight the failure of our education system, yet few have any constructive criticism to offer. It’s generally agreed upon, however, that what we are collectively doing is failing our youth. In fact, education is the easiest political issue to thunder upon at a pulpit. Just think of the kids, we are told. According to most, we need to fix education because it is the only clear way for our children to escape poverty.

Contrary to what is socially accepted, I might suggest that an education should be about more than finding a job. Simply, an education should be about learning. Yes, we should compel youth to learn skills that will be applicable to finding a living wage, but primarily, an education should be about students learning about values, morals, and ethics. An education should be about how to engage our neighbors and succeed in creating loving family structures. An American education should be about sharing wisdom and knowledge that will create good human beings, not just workers.

Educators should do more in classrooms than simply cater to national testing structures. I propose that the biggest problem in our education system has become the incessant testing we use to constrain today’s students.

The SAT test is currently being reviewed and revised, and there are several conversations taking place about its validity. The reason that the SAT is being revised involves statistics that tell us there is a problem with the results. Students from impoverished families have proven to perform less successfully than those from wealthier families. So, we need to level the playing field to ensure opportunity. This plays right into the problem with testing in our education system.

Let’s be honest about what test results mean in our education system, nationwide. Test results are a financial indicator that determines how much money a school district will receive. For the individual student, test results are an economic indicator for how much money a student might potentially make. For teachers, test results might determine a salary or even allow for keeping one’s job. For administrators, test results are a tool to wield to endorse necessary change and, ultimately, advocate further testing.

Testing in our education system has become tied to America’s economic woes. It perpetuates the competitive structure that has become synonymous with the American workplace: if you don’t test/work better than another student/worker, then you will ultimately fail/get fired/remain poor. Since getting a job has become inexorably linked with how well one does in school, our education system has attempted to adjust itself, wrongfully, by further catering to the disparities found in the American workplace. As the economic gap between salaries widens, so has the structuring of our education system. Instead of offering equal chances in the classroom, the opportunity gap is widening because of more stringent testing.

Our teachers are not being trained to teach with agency. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged, or even commanded, to simply instruct material that will be found on tests. The profession of teacher is no longer a profession, but simply a job…one in which an agent facilitates learning by accommodating a test’s structure instead of a test’s content.

We see how dangerous a precedent this can be by observing the testing scandal that occurred in Atlanta over the past five years, in which teachers and administrators decided to cheat by erasing incorrect answers of students and entering correct answers. These school members wanted more money for their districts and individual salaries. This unethical practice occurs because the “professionals” were more concerned about their jobs rather than performing their social duties.

It’s obvious that we cannot simply abandon testing in our education system precisely because financial allotments have become so entrenched with test results. This is a similar difficulty we currently have with our American healthcare system (How can we do away with medical insurance structures when so many people depend on the attached financial allotments?). However, it is also obvious that testing is contributing to our education system’s decline, primarily because it is so attached to these financial allotments.

Ideally, a professional teacher should be able to determine a class’s structure for the benefit and good of every student, and her concern should be less about test results and more about comprehension and validity for each student. Students should not be penalized for performing poorly on tests (which often do not effectively calculate what is actually learned), but instead should be rewarded for participating and enjoying the benefits of an actual, active, participatory learning experience. Every student should graduate from a class having the same level playing field, without the competitive structure that stifles so many youth.

Eliminating testing might actually help our education system, but our economic system will not allow it. If we are to solve the problem of education, then we should be willing to break the political, social, and financial constraints that contribute most to the problem. We should not evaluate educators based on universally-constructed parameters; instead, educators should be evaluated on what they can bring to their local classrooms, based on the agency their experience and education have earned them. Students should not be hindered by test results, but instead students should be allowed to thrive by demonstrating individually what they have authentically learned from individual class experiences to their individual educators. Passing a student to the next grade should not be made more difficult by propagating the SAT as the ultimate standard; allowing children to succeed in America should not be determined primarily by its failing test structure.

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2 comments

  1. “Primarily, an education should be about students learning about values, morals, and ethics” – I might retort to the contrary that education ought to be more about inculcating skills useful in the job market – but this too would be insufficient.

    It’s uncertain which of these approaches (or some other[s]) ought to dominate; no doubt some blend of these would prove useful.

    If I understand the following statement,
    ”[S]tudents should be allowed to thrive by demonstrating individually what they have authentically learned from individual class experiences to their individual educators,” then I wholly agree.

    Such would encourage students with varying purposes for their studies to focus on and express their personal understandings and how it applies to their own interests. In my philosophy of atrocity class, there are many students interested in social change; I prefer to assess the romantic “spiritual” notions of evil. Testing both subgroups is not only problematic due to issues with standardized testing, it is also an insufficient gauge of the extent to which students have understood the material in light of and will apply it to their own purposes.

    Now, regarding SAT scores, consider this peculiarity: After graduating high school online, I took the SAT and scored 460 in math. Fast forward two years later after having taken a remedial math course, two college level maths, AND tutoring math for two years. My new score on the SAT? 460. So what does the SAT truly test?

    I received my first B in college after three years – and I couldn’t be more relieved. No longer is some grade going to determine how I feel about what I have learned and what I hope to accomplish. Since I was in my pre-teen years I have heard that incessant clamour of “education reform,” yet things appear to be waxing worse in many educative areas.

    Common sense fixes are necessary. As a hopeful professor/instructor, I too cradle a fondness for that romantic notion of professor/instructor endowed with agency. Methinks we must work with a limited system while attempting changes slowly within, or altogether seek alternative approaches to teaching and learning.

  2. Underlying the entire testing philosophy is the idea that students expend all-out effort for the tests mandated by NCLB in order to determine AYP. While it may be true that some middle and high school students do take the testing seriously, it has been my experience as a high school teacher that the majority of teen test-takers couldn’t care less about doing their best on yet one more test. Honestly, who in their right mind puts much stock in the output of a hundred hormonal teenagers? Yet, that is precisely where the money is. On any other issue, little credence would be given to teenagers loudly (or subversively) stating their opinions, but that is what we do when we hold educational funding and teachers’ jobs hostage and judge the effectiveness of a system by test results. By the time it all gets to the SAT, the cherry on top of the garbage can covered in whipped cream, it’s way too late. All broken systems eventually fail, but it won’t come soon enough.

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