Let’s Erase the Bubbles

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

We Should Be Social Media Distancing, Too.

It’s been almost a month since COVID-19 hoisted me from my dorm at Temple University and plopped me back in my parents’ house indefinitely. Days are beginning to run together, I haven’t seen my friends in weeks due to social-distancing rules, and optimism is waning steadily. Like most people, I’ve been spending an embarrassingly large amount of time on my smartphone. I’ve discovered how much people are controlled by social media and the Internet in the last four weeks as a result. We’re drawn to our devices during this pandemic, but it’s probably a better idea to limit screen time. 

Digital detoxes aren’t a revolutionary idea; people have been saying screen time is bad for mental health for years. But in this new dystopian world we’re living in, going online is different. When you unlock your phone, you’re constantly inundated with information about the virus which can cause an incredible amount of anxiety. 

In “Coronavirus News on Social Media Stressing You Out? Here’s How to Handle The Anxiety” in the American Heart Association News, pandemic reporting and mental health are discussed: “The ever-shifting news has some people constantly checking their phones for updates […] ‘It’s really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic,’ said licensed clinical psychologist Debra Kissen of Chicago.” Kissen continues to argue that uncertainty, especially the uncertainty everyone is feeling now, is the definition of anxiety. 

Influencers and online personalities are another reason to limit screen time during self-isolation. They’ve always promoted unrealistic and stylized lifestyles online, but during a pandemic, it’s even more maddening. In a recent article from Vanity Fair titled “Is This The End of Influencing As We Know It?” Kenzie Bryant says, “It’s hard to kick back and consume a little mindless fare […] whatever inspiration influencers offered will no longer cut it. We’re all a little too spent to aspire to anything except making it through.” In isolation, people aren’t seeking an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram feed; people are seeking hope and authenticity. 

Above everything else, the biggest problem with social media right now is the spread of misinformation. The Internet has always been a place where stupidity can shine, but ignorance is one of our biggest enemies right now. In “How Social Media Is Shaping Our Fears Of– And Response To– The Coronavirus” from Time Magazine Online, Alejandro De La Garza argues, “Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which didn’t exist or barely existed during past major outbreaks, are facilitating important conversations about the virus, while at the same time allowing sensationalism and misinformation to spread.”

Proponents of a digital-heavy diet in isolation will argue that it’s the best way to stay connected to friends, and it provides people with the latest information. I agree we should be staying in touch with family and friends, especially since isolation can be so lonely. However, the fastest information isn’t always the best information, and breaks from the screen are beneficial even if it means a short time without friends.

Ultimately, no one but you is going to police the hours you spend on social media in isolation. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter can be a comfort for people who haven’t been outside in weeks. But honestly, quarantine is creating a questionable internet environment, and maybe we should be social media distancing, too.