Public school testing stirs up strong emotions and opinions, whether it be from parents, teachers, or the students themselves. As a parent, I understand the drama and desperation. Who wants to see their child have an anxiety attack over a test whose purpose they don’t truly understand? Standardized tests have been used for a long time, but it wasn’t always like this. Previously they were used as tools to help evaluate students’ progress and guide teachers. Now they’re used to evaluate teacher performance and gauge the effectiveness of schools, ultimately determining their fate. The student being tested almost seems like an afterthought.
Schools and teachers will face the repercussions of test results; the children will just carry the weight of continual test pressure, coloring their academic viewpoint for years to come. Many parents insist their children take the tests because it will prepare them for a life of test-taking. This has validity. Normalizing the act of sitting for an exam can help to alleviate the jitters that can occur. Other parents will opt-out either to spare their children the pressure, or simply based on their principles. Maybe their only way to end the insanity is to boycott the whole thing! That action is comforting to the individual, but it doesn’t do much to affect any real change.
There is fear embedded in this test-taking culture. The consequences of low test scores is too great a threat. How can we compare one school to another in a city that educates over one million students—children with differing backgrounds, cultures, home lives, home languages, and varying degrees of special needs? We are supposed to be embracing our differences and evaluating the whole child, not just their ability to sit for hours filling in bubbles.
Even in progressive-style public schools, “test talk” is an everyday occurrence, along with test-prep workshops. Children can see that even their teachers are nervous about the outcomes. All of this buildup has its consequences. The last thing we want is for our kids to hate school. But that is exactly what these actions lead to. Many students will not be bothered by the ordeal. But what about the ones who are? They may internalize the importance of the test outcomes to reflect on their own personal achievements. They may question their own abilities, damaging their self-confidence and self-worth. The world today does a well enough job breaking down an individual’s sense of self. Why encourage it?
Parents strive to protect their children from harm while ensuring their happiness and emotional well-being. It is clear that this attitude must seep into their academic life as well. If your child was being bullied at school would you ignore it? Of course not. You tackle the issue head-on and get involved. Shouldn’t the same level of concern manifest when our children experience test-induced anxiety? Now is the time to inform ourselves and advocate on their behalf, no matter what your position is on testing
By Amanda Lefer