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Are These Tests Failing?
The effects of standardized testing

It's an early morning in a medium-sized classroom. Students are nervously taking a test. They studied long and hard but find some difficulty. One student keeps tapping the pencil, hoping an answer will come. Another finds that time is passing with several questions unanswered. Some of the questions were not covered in class.

A controversial test
Standardized testing seeks to make sure that all students are educated well. It measures their performance and the school's, for a limited range of math and English skills. But the tests usually do not measure knowledge of history and society or reasoning skills. These are desirable aspects of a well-rounded education and essential to preparing active, free-thinking participants of our society.

A big plus is that standardized tests help to end social promotion - students being sent to the next grade without passing some or all of their subjects. Social promotion makes students' education even more difficult. It leaves them to learn harder subjects without knowing the basics they need just to keep up. 

On the other hand, standardized testing may encourage students to memorize material instead of processing the information naturally, along with the ability to reason with the information. Teachers find this issue distressing, especially for younger students who can't memorize a great deal of material. Teachers feel these tests are pushing children's limits too soon.

The effect on minorities
Minority students are often left at a disadvantage because the tests are culturally biased, using language and ways of presenting information that favors more prosperous students. English may also be a students' second language. This is even more difficult when  native languages are spoken in their homes and neighborhoods. 

Minority students are also more likely to face poverty and lack of parental education. Parents may also work several minimum wage jobs just to get by, leaving little time or energy to help children with their studies.

How children cope
Facing the pressure of standardized tests, students try to cram too much information in a short period of time. Memory capacity decreases from the stress of one high-pressure test that can decide whether they get left back to do an entire year over. Poor test results may also make them feel insecure about their intelligence and encourage them to give up.

A little history
Nationwide testing began when the "No Child Left Behind Act" was signed into law on January 8, 2002 by President Bush. An example of its success is shown on The Business Council of New York State website. It reports that 95% of the class of 2003 in three major cities (Boston, Worcester, and Springfield) met that state's demanding graduation requirements. This suggests that many students do succeed with these high-stakes tests. Still, it doesn’t convince many people.

According to  an article in the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory website, 78% of the parents agree that “it's wrong to use the results of just one test to decide whether a student gets promoted or graduates.” To assess a student's abilities takes time. This is why the added pressure of one test shouldn't be the only requirement for promoting a student. Still, the same website reports that 82% of parents who knew their child's school was engaged in these tests thought the job was "careful and reasonable." Thus, standardized testing remains controversial, with many people having mixed opinions.

Advice for Students: Ways to Prepare
Standardized tests have a way of getting the better of everyone involved but there are ways to combat the bully. Start studying as early as possible! Material for a test can be retained more easily if it is studied months in advance, making it more familiar and easier to remember permanently.

The day before the test, do some exercise to get a good night's sleep. Eat a balanced meal, including protein, but not too much, before the test. If you feel stressed during the test, put the pencil down and take a few deep breaths. You could also excuse yourself briefly from the room; not to make a run for it but to provide a change in scenery for a few minutes.

Article by Denessa Bachelor, Hearts & Minds volunteer

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