I remember sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of my second grade classroom when I was first taught how to fill in a bubble on a standardized test. I stared at a chalkboard while my teacher drew bubbles and repeated the same things over and over.
Number two pencils only. Make sure to fill in the bubble completely. If it’s filled incorrectly, the machine will mark it wrong. Don’t fill the bubble like this, no, not with an X. Make sure to erase the bubble completely if you change your mind or make a mistake.
The importance of these bubbles could not be overstated.
Standardized testing came as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act which passed through Congress and was made law in 2002 by President George W. Bush. The law “significantly increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students […] States did not have to comply with the new requirements, but if they didn’t, they risked losing federal Title I money” (Klein).
In theory, the NCLB law was a great idea– students should be proficient in certain areas before graduating from high school. Despite the good intentions behind the NCLB law, standardized testing should not be the measure of success for students, teachers, or schools.
Instead of using testing to ensure that no students are left behind, standardized tests determine almost everything in education now. Most colleges require standardized test scores, elementary school teachers are evaluated based on the scores of their students, and even schools are assessed based on the scores of students and the achievement of “adequate yearly progress” or AYP.
In The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss discusses several times when standardized testing went too far. In one case, Florida law refused to let students move to fourth grade if they couldn’t pass a third grade language arts test. That’s it. They didn’t care about grades or work ethic or any of the other measures of a good student. They just needed the test score to determine if a student was ready to move to the next grade.
Colleges have relied on test scores in applications to determine a student’s success, too. The SAT was formerly used as a scholarship test in the 1930s, but now it determines how successful a person will be in college. A study by William Hiss found “there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and ‘nonsubmitters’” (Westervelt). A test provides merely a number, but when we reduce people to numbers, we ignore the things which make them great students.
Proponents of standardized testing argue it’s the best way to measure academic preparedness and success. They claim that students should be assessed to make sure they’re proficient. But is a test the best way to measure the intelligence of students? Should it determine whether a student is accepted into college or moves to fourth grade?
Although standardized testing was never meant to impede students’ learning or act as the measurement for school and teacher success, it’s become a problem. Can filling in bubbles on a piece of paper determine curiosity, grades, or love of learning?
Instead of worrying about test scores, let’s make sure students love learning. Instead of worrying about filling in bubbles, let’s erase the bubbles entirely.