The seven servings of standardized testing

Lucy Tantum

At Redwood, spring isn’t just when the sun comes out and the geese return to the South Lawn – it also marks the beginning of standardized testing season.

Like many of my classmates, I groan whenever testing season comes around. I dread the tedium of sitting for hours, listening to a teacher read scripted instructions, and solving simplistic problems.  The tests sometimes seem unnecessary, as many students pass with relative ease.

I have taken the STAR test every April since second grade. I have filled out countless bubbles, read countless passages about obscure topics, and solved countless arithmetic problems.

And after taking the CAHSEE test, I laughed about how easy the problems were. The square root of 16?  The meaning of the word ‘minimum’?  It seemed hard to believe that this was the level at which we were expected to graduate.

I accept these tests as a necessary evil, never getting stressed about how well I will perform on them. And I have just started to realize that most students don’t have the privilege of thinking this way.

According to 2012 data from the California Department of Education, 83 percent of all California students passed the CAHSEE English section and 83 percent passed the mathematics section.

At Redwood, 98 and 99 percent of students passed the English and math sections, respectively.  This is a significant difference from the rest of the state.

Maybe we shouldn’t be laughing at the easier questions on the tests. What might seem simple to the majority of Redwood students could be complicated for students who have fewer resources available to them.

At a basic level, standardized tests are intended to test how well we can think critically and use the skills we have been taught.

I feel privileged to have received these skills at a young age and to have been taught how to utilize them, with the help of parents and teachers, and to live in a community where learning is encouraged.

The purpose of standardized testing is to level the playing field and give disadvantaged students a chance to show disparities in their education.

But not all students have the same opportunities as those who attend Redwood – so can those disparities ever really be fixed?

There are 4.6 million students who take the STAR tests every year, each of whom have different levels of preparedness for it. Right now, the best way to address these discrepancies is through standardized testing.

Some say that filling in rows of tiny answer bubbles drain students of their imagination and forming curricula around specific standards robs teachers of their innovation. But without standardization, the levels of education in different schools would be even more polarized than they are now.

We complain about the tests being easy, and assume that everyone feels the same way.  Really, they feel easy because Redwood is at the front of the curve in terms of preparing us for them.

No matter how arduous the standardized tests are, they do serve an important purpose. Reading those stories and solving those math problems and filling in those answer bubbles will ultimately be worth our time.