school testing

In this file photo, students takes a Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam.

Standardized testing is something nearly all students must complete every year.

Administrators and schools require the data from such testing to rank themselves among other educational systems throughout the country. Some argue that standardized tests give students a “preview” of what to expect if they pursue secondary education, and should be seen as more of a benefit.

However, many students argue that the tests produce more stress, cause students to have a more negative relationship with school, and overall tend to not accurately show a student’s academic ability.

To combat these negative effects, standardized tests should be reevaluated and adapted to address current concerns.

Students, of course, feel stress throughout the school year, as many try to maintain high grades and high-grade-point averages. However, as schools add the load of standardized testing to the mix, students’ stress levels soon become unbearable.

According to Texas A&M University researchers Jennifer Heissel, Emma Adam and David Figilo, “on average students have 15% more cortisol in their systems the homeroom period before a standardized test than on days with no high-stakes testing.”

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in the body as people come under increased stress. Students, anxious and jittery, are forced to take standardized tests despite the negative emotions that are associated with them.

Standardized tests force students to perform under extreme pressure and can lead to a host of mental issues including low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

As a direct result of their increased stress levels, students can begin to feel more and more resentful toward the education system. Many feel it is unfair to be forced to work upward of two hours a night — and even longer for honors and Advanced Placement students — while trying to juggle extracurricular activities, jobs and other responsibilities. If students struggle to achieve test scores that are at least level or somewhat above their peers, they may face backlash from parents and guardians.

In an article for his Maryland high school newspaper, The Lion's Tale, student Lincoln Aftergood wrote, “This can lead to students resenting learning and believing that they are worse than everyone else because of their low score.”

Standardized tests put a damper on the positives of learning, and lead students to more heavily focus on the negatives.

Finally, standardized tests rarely showcase a student’s true academic ability. Students have different home lives, schedules and jobs outside of school.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development acknowledges that standardized testing can showcase a student’s strengths and weaknesses, but states: “Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality.”

That association explains that standardized tests are useful only when comparing student test scores across the nation, in order to evaluate different schools’ academic procedures and effectiveness. Standardized tests, therefore, should not be the only source employed when evaluating a student’s academic competency. Work ethic, integrity and class grades all reflect a more accurate representation of a student’s ability.

To conclude, standardized tests are not only relatively inaccurate, but also produce unnecessary anxiety and stress, as well as pessimistic attitudes toward the education system. Many students already are completely overwhelmed; the addition of standardized tests is no help to the declining mental health of teenagers.

The education system needs fewer exhausted and overworked teenagers with less-than-positive attitudes toward school, and more positive and enthusiastic students who look forward to the prospect of learning. The adaptation or elimination of standardized tests would be an effective way to achieve this aim.

Lexi Roe is in grade 11 at Ephrata High School.

Editor's note: This column was updated Dec. 9, 2020, to attribute student journalist Lincoln Aftergood's quote to his article, "Why standardized tests are harmful to students as they enter the real world," in his student newspaper at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland.

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