What my testing experience taught me.

What’s it like to be a kid? I try to put myself in the shoes of my students everyday with the hopes of answering this question amongst others. What is it like to come to school everyday? To sit at those desks? To look up at me and place your immediate and distant futures in my hands? These are the questions that get me out of bed every morning.

But there are other questions that I must answer. Harder questions. Questions that elicit completely opposite emotions. What is it like to sit through hours of standardized tests throughout your elementary, middle, and high school careers? To have your intellectual growth and overall competency determined in a single flash? Judged by a single test? I have a hard time answering these questions honestly.

Although it was only 6 years ago, I don’t remember taking the ACT. I recently stumbled upon the emergency room bracelet that I received as a result of the nervous breakdown I suffered just before our school’s mandated PSAT screening. A constant reminder of the immense weight standardized tests can carry.

But that’s it.

No emotional memories, no real evidence that I can bring to the table when trying to answer the question, what is it like to be tested? Sure, I have experienced my fair share of comprehensive tests throughout my college career: unit tests, chapter exams, cumulative finals, etc. But those cannot be compared to standardized tests for a number of reasons: company-made v. teacher-made test materials, setting of test administration, norm-referenced v. criterion-referenced assessment goals, etc. College midterms and finals are stressful, yes. They are comprehensive and carry a lot of academic weight, yes.  But they are not standardized tests.

However, I was fortunate enough to experience an intensive standardized test when I took the PRAXIS II exams earlier this week. For those  who are educators, you are undoubtedly asking why I described my experience the way I did. And rightfully so. The PRAXIS II tests are tough. They grind the brain. The content exam asks you to recall information from as early as your high school days and the pedagogy exam forces you to make instructional decisions in fictional classrooms. Again, these tests grind your mental capacities.

All that said, I believe I was fortunate to take these tests because the experience was eye-opening. For 6 hours I could honestly answer the question I had struggled with for years since high school: this is what it is like to be tested. This is the reality of today’s student.

If, for only a few hours, I felt as if I was in their shoes. Sitting in their desks. The experience gave me a heightened sense of empathy for what my students go through. A standardized testing experience is stressful. The environment is clinical. White walls. Strict administrators. The definition of a “no fun zone.” But more than anything else, the overall weight of the task at hand is immense. Pushing your mind to concentrate for hours on end. Forcing your cognitive capabilities to their max, attempting to recall information you have buried in dusty mental filing cabinets.

But remember, this is the reality of today’s student.

What I took away from my testing experience was not my score. Rather, it was everything else. I will always remember the nearly suffocating stress, the sweat on my brow, the lingering headache after the fact. And I will carry these memories with me into my future classrooms.

For those who may advocate for standardized testing, claiming they should be viewed authentic glimpses into a student’s annual yearly progress, I ask them to recall their last testing experience. What do they remember about the experience? Do they feel their end score accurately articulated their knowledge base? I would guess most of them would argue not. The test undoubtedly failed to provide adequate opportunities for their innate creativity and intelligence to shine through. Their test results were only a mere portion of their overall competency.  Let us remember this when we analyze students’ standardized test scores.

It is important to remember that a student’s score is merely a snapshot of that student in that particular moment in time. A standardized test does not take into account a student’s life outside of the classroom, let alone cater to their individual strengths as a learner. Let us remember that as educators and policy makers.

While I do believe standardized test have a place in our educational system, I do not believe they should continue to be used in the same way. A student’s score should represent one piece of data that is combined with a multitude of other factors. No one piece of data should outweigh the others as students’ test scores do today.

That is what the reality of today’s student should be. That is what I hope for in the future.

 

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