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Standardization: The Tyrant of the American Educational System

When you turn on any news channel today shortly after hearing about our struggling economy, or events occurring in the wars we are presently in, you will probably hear something about the poor educational system in America.  We all hear about how other nations are beating us in certain test scores and about plans from experts for new education reform.  What should we be focusing on in education reform?  There are countless ideas that the experts will go into great detail about, but there is one area that is most demanding of our attention.  That is standardization.

We are facing a major problem with both the amount of standardized testing, and the strict curriculum criteria that teachers must follow.  Many teachers have said, “I start teaching Test Preparation the first week of school.”  I found disturbing facts like this at this website http://k6educators.about.com/cs/professionaldevel/a/standtests.htm.

Today’s students partake in an extensive amount of standardized testing.  According to the Teachers College at Columbia University and this website http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm American students take over 100 million standardized test a year possibly making us the most standardized test taking country in the world. Studies have shown that students dread facing standardized tests.  In my college classroom discussion on the matter the few kids who actually enjoyed standardized test times only enjoyed it because they got free snacks.  That brings forth another good point.  The results from the day that child takes the standardized test is solely what he/she is valued upon academically.  Maybe that student got into a car wreck that morning, or the child’s parents fought the night before.  Then, the student would be stressed, and probably would not perform as well on their test.  What if we took all the time taken in preparation for all the standardized tests and added it with all the time and money spent actually performing all the standardized tests?  That would be a lot of time and money we could use to add an additional class or enhance the school’s clubs and athletic programs.

Specific standardized tests that only affect the stature and reputation of the school do create many problems.  Since there are no personal consequences for performing poorly students do not give the exam their full attention.  This is one of the many reasons why it is simply ludicrous to use the scores in judging our schools.  It is not fair because it is those tests, like the California standardized tests administered through the STAR program, that schools are graded off of.  The scores from those tests make up each school’s academic performance index (API).  Parents that move into a new area, and are concerned for the educational needs of their children, heavily rely on each school’s API in determining where to enroll their children. This information was drilled into my head in high school to stress the importance of STAR testing.  Also, tests results can determine how much money the school gets from the state.  Finding an alternative way to grade our schools is crucial to the health of our educational system.

Our teachers are forced to such strict guidelines on what they must include in their curriculum for their students.  There should be some sort of guidelines on the material they must cover, but the ridiculous degree at which standardization currently is in our country is unacceptable.  Teachers are in a sense handicapped.  They teach strictly towards our standardized test and the strict curriculum set by the state.  We are crippling our really good teachers.  The great teachers that would otherwise be innovative and interesting are boring and useless.  Without these strict guidelines, like the CA standards which I’ll discuss in greater detail later, we would make it possible for some teachers to make school interesting for our students.  For example, I went to high school in California and the teachers there had to cover for their course what was listed in the California Standards.  The standards mean well, but they do more harm than good.  It seemed as if both the students and the teachers were encaged with  standards. Sadly my experience of this horrendous educational environment is not an anomaly.  In fact in a study done by Hass, Haladyna, and Nolen in 1990, 9% of teachers confessed that they cheat to improve test scores.  The flaw here is not our teacher’s character, but the senseless pressure put on them by our incompetent system.  The relentless pressure from these tests is created because the results may determine whether or not that teacher keeps his/her job.  The people who make the standards want to ensure that all students graduate high school with a basic knowledge in each subject that they believe everyone should have.  What about the students who want much more.  Are we holding them back?  The answer is we are.

With the exception of the SAT and ACT all other standardized tests should be removed from schools.  If we feel the need to constantly monitor our schools than it should be through qualitative research and not simply test scores.  It is absolutely ridiculous that we have standardized tests for students in second grade.  Also, we need to give our teachers more freedom.  The teachers have met a certain criteria to become a teacher.  If we trust them enough to allow them to educate our youth, then we should also give them the freedom to teach in whatever way that they think would best educate their students.

Current surveys suggest that most parents actually agree with the strict guidelines and standardized testing.  The extensive testing that is occurring in our schools will not stop until the public is no longer blinded by overrated tests scores.  We must see the lack of creativity our teachers are allowed to use and how it is harming our youth.

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