How Testing Fails All Of Us

An alarmingly accurate essay about your high school learning

Viktor Tesarczyk — St. Paul, Minnesota

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Why do schools heed so much attention towards these things called “tests”? Being a Junior in high school, I perfectly understand the stress of being bombarded on waves upon waves of tests in every subject. The problem my generation faces is that we don’t use our minds to our fullest potential. Instead, we are being taught in a “standardized” environment — where test prep is overemphasized.

“Too many kids in too many schools are bored”.

said by Joshua Starr, a former superintendent in Maryland. This problem stems from something bigger. Most Americans, including myself, believe that students are being made to test to a unnecessary extent, like a machine. I can remember countless times where I was made to prepare for the test to prepare for the test to prepare for the test. I can relate to it completely, and I’m fed up.


When I enter a classroom that is “standardized”, everything changes — mainly from the look on the students’ faces. As I sit in my desk, I look directly across the room and see a boy who was in my class before this one. One hour ago, we were running up and down the stairs in an entertaining science lab measuring horsepower. Everyone was having a good time, especially this boy. He ran as hard as he could and competed with his friends to see who could get the highest horsepower. Learning the physics concepts wasn’t an issue, it came with the enjoyment of the activity. When I see him now, everything changed. His happiness dwindled as he walked in the classroom, and when the teacher said it was time to take a test, he somberly lowered his head into his desk.

This is a misfortune I see in the school system today. I feel like I’m being used as a machine to test rather than a student engaging in every aspect of my learning. One of the main reasons of this — student engagement.


Students are becoming less and less engaged in classrooms.

The reason? Testing. Here’s how the Gallop Poll describes the downward spiral: nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged. I consider myself engaged only when the teacher lets us do engaging and hands on activities with our learning… Just like elementary school. Coincidence? Numbers show its really not. Brandon Busteed, an executive director of Gallop Education, educational entrepreneur, writer, and university trustee said:

“If we were doing right by our students and our future, these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.”

Busteed goes on by talking about the causes of this;

“our overzealous focus on standardized testing… Students and teachers are under pressure to prep for and take tests”

The captivating thing about this is that myself and all my teachers can relate to this. As a matter in fact, I have 3 tests tomorrow… I’ll probably be three times more engaged writing this essay than taking those tests. How do you take that, school system of America? Other schools around the world don’t have this problem.


This setback in student success doesn’t happen in other countries, even those with much less resources and capital to spend. In terms of International evidence,

United States is BELOW average in terms of math and science.

One may assume that the most sophisticated and developed countries (like the United States) have the best educational systems. Why don’t we? According to Ludger Woessmann, a professor of economics at the University of Munich explains that there isn’t a strong positive relationship between spending and student performance. Woessmann emphasizes the fact that

“Besides a student’s family, teachers probably have the greatest impact on student achievement”.

Have you ever had a teacher that never really cared about what they were teaching and just gave you those pieces of paper with the bubbles and letters that showed your level of “progress”? You probably have. And this ultimately shows that the investment in teachers that care about teaching different ways than the “easy way out” ultimately leads to a students success. DeAnn Moran, a teacher at a public school in Oklahoma, says that she spends $4000 to $6000 of her OWN money on supplies for her students each year. Her explanation was

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to be creative for our children, even if that means it comes out of my pocket”.

Now, how is it that this type of teacher is going to be paid the same amount as a teacher who could care less about seeing a smile on a students face? This problem of allocating our precious dollars towards emphasizing the wrong parts of teaching and the importance of testing comes hand and hand with student engagement, and it leaves America at the towards the bottom of the charts in yet another category. We need to emphasize our time and resources towards creative and hands on learning rather than preparing for tests.


The main aspect of education these days that is seen to be less prevalent, and almost absent in higher levels of education, such as high school; is hands on learning. Dr. Carolina Blatt-Gross, who received her PhD in art education at Georgia University, wrote an article for CNN describing her experiences in education and a personal account of her sons experience in school. Her most memorable words were:

“we learn about the world through our senses, drawing information in through our bodies to feed our understanding of the world…expecting children to disconnect from their bodies isn’t natural. We have five senses for a reason.”

Blatt-Gross tries to convey the point that the absence of learning about the world with a “thinking outside of the box” mentality, leaves our students bored and not motivated to learn. We have five senses for a reason, and teachers need to encoorperate that in teaching. If we don’t, we will rest in the bottom half in education institutions in the world. Why don’t we work on that (@USGovernment)? Don’t we want to be the best in everything?

Students learning about the properties of magnets while sitting in a circle on the floor

Opponents may claim that the emphasis on testing is an important aspect of education. I mean, after all, aren’t tests supposed to assess a students knowledge of a subject? There’s a difference between centralized testing, and standardized testing (which we use). 15 of the top 18 countries in math and science scores use centralized exams. They’re exams… but it’s where an administrative body beyond the schooling level writes and administers the exams to all students. What it allows schools to do is see whether the student or teacher is it fault. Woessmann analyzes this by saying:

This reduces the teachers’ leeway and creates an incentive to use resources effectively.

What Ludger Woessmann believes is that the testing itself isn’t the problem, but how resources are allocated towards the individual teaching in classrooms. We (the United States) needs to see this as an opportunity of learning how to run a ‘quality’ school system. And how standardized tests aren’t improving our schools education…at all.


“At the federal, state, and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation,”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

“We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it”.

Thankfully, something is attempted to be done as we speak to fix the combination of student engagement connected to the stupendous amount of tests upon us. Why can’t I enjoy school like I did in elementary school? Because their approach of nurturing our education was different, and ultimately more effective. I speak for the majority of kids my age struggling to pass a class that has one test that decides their grade for the semester.

When I see that boy across the classroom, I strive to see him as happy and as passionate for learning as he was in the previous class, where the right incentives were placed in the teaching. As opposed to a “standardized” classroom environment, which doesn’t make you think critically. But the most important setback is the fact that students aren’t able to use their full potential to see the world.

“Student engagement with school and learning is a gold standard that every parent, teacher, and school strives to achieve”

said by Brandon Busteed. If we continue this trend of emphasis on testing, our generation will not see the world with clarity. And the whole education system would be broken.


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