As a mother to five children, with the oldest now turning 18, I have seen standardized tests change throughout the years and I am sorry to say I do not think they have changed for the better. The use of standardized tests is not something new, as I remember taking them many years ago when I was in school. However, the weight that has been attached to the test results now is where I think we find the biggest problem. These tests have taken away true education in the classroom and I believe are hurting our children in a very negative way.
Many years ago, back when I was in elementary school, I remember the Illinois state tests we used to have to take. Back then, they were just a test that we all took to see where a student’s strengths and weaknesses were. To me, as a kid, it was nothing more than a few days where we didn’t have regular class and had a bunch of papers with little bubbles that needed to be filled in.
However, as a parent, I have seen the changes these tests have taken over the years. When my oldest son, soon to be 18, first hit the age to take these tests, I was amazed to see how much weight was now put on them. Whereas we took these tests just out of the blue to test our knowledge on what we had been taught through regular classroom instruction, schools were now taking time out of each day to focus on test preparation.
No longer are these tests designed to test what is learned but they have essentially become a classroom lesson plan. Teachers are no longer left to actually teach fundamentals, but are now required to teach children how to pass these tests. School no longer has a focus of general learning, but of how to take tests and pass, and it is our children that are losing out.
Unfortunately, these tests moved away from a collection of general information on children’s progress, to a report card for teachers and educational funding. If you, as a teacher, have a class that scores low on these tests, then your job is in jeopardy. If you have a school who doesn’t “make the grade” on these tests, then the schools could see their doors closing.
As a mom of gifted children as well as children that struggle, I, like many teachers, realize that children learn at different speeds and different levels. Today’s standardized tests however, do not take this into consideration, and it becomes a pass/fail scenario. When my youngest son was in first grade, he had an amazing lady as his teacher. She had been teaching for over 30 years, and loved to teach. She had a classroom filled with books, which she had purchased herself, because she believed that it was important to instill a love of reading at an early age.
I spoke one day to his teacher as they were preparing to take the state test, and she talked about how these tests no longer allowed her to focus on the important aspects of teaching. The basics like learning how to enjoy a good book. School, even for 6-year-old first graders was no longer fun like it had been when we were in school. When we were in first grade, it was all about learning to work with others; learning to read and enjoy learning. Today’s standardized tests have made children as young as first grade essentially have to conform to one way of learning, and that doesn’t work for all children. She believed this was one of the reasons we see so many kids dropping out of school. They are frustrated and teachers no longer have the time to be able to help. Teachers are forced to follow test preparation lesson plans, and not deviate from them.
As a mom, I want to see my children wanting to go to school and learn, especially the younger ones. I want to have my teachers able to focus on teaching and allowing students to learn in ways that help them, and not focusing all their time on taking tests. I know many very intelligent individuals who hold numerous degrees, but when it came to their schooling and standardized tests, those little bubbles got them every time. If standardized tests are to continue being used, they need to go back to how they were with my generation. Use them as a guide to show what has been learned and not as a requirement for educational funding. We need to allow teachers to get back to teaching fundamentals and move away from the focus of these little bubble tests. Our children deserve to be able to learn and to absorb new information in an environment that is open to learning and not locked in on a pass/fail test which really offers them no benefit in their learning process.