by Spencer Gable
Whenever I think of standardized tests and the dozens students need to complete in their educational lifetime, I’m reminded of the insightful lyrics of music artist and rap celebrity Eminem in his song, “Lose Yourself:”
“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down…”
(Nemesis, Sydney & Doyle par. 2)
While many could conclude that he’s most likely recounting a rap battle of an unfortunate soul, I like to imagine that he’s describing the feelings of a nervous student, sitting among the rows of other students, trying their best to complete the next high-stakes standardized test that’s thrown at them. Even the lyrics about the vomit are relevant; according to the standardized testing webpage on ProCon.org, “test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it” (“Standardized Tests” par. 6). Why would a test cause a student to become so nervous to the point of feeling nauseous?
The reason why these sheets of paper can cause high stress is because standardized testing can carry with it some very high stakes. When a 100-answer multiple choice bubble sheet is the major determining factor in whether or not they get accepted into their choice college, or even into any college, whether they are able to advance to the next grade or not, or if they’re going to be able to graduate high school, the student filling in those bubbles might be a little more than a little anxious while taking the exam. And it’s not just the students feeling the heat, but schools and faculty as well. Since the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act, journalist for the Saturday Evening Post Steven Slon explains that schools have been mandated to administer annual math and reading tests to measure academic competence. If a particular school is showing signs of underperformance indicated by their cumulative scores compared to standardized cut-scores, sanctions against that school could follow, or even closure (Slon 48). Fueled by this fear, these schools will allot large fractions of a student’s curriculum to test preparations and ‘teaching to the test.’ This method can be defined by Patte Barth, representative for the Center for Public Education, as the teaching of a narrowed curriculum that panders to only the content of an upcoming test and excludes any other academic material (Barth & Mitchell par. 20). This kind of teaching restrains the development of any student’s creative problem solving skills, and ultimately just produces another professional test-taking individual that has no sense of innovative thought. Celebrated educational lecturer, speaker, and author Sir Ken Robinson helps the reader realize the shortcomings of standardized testing when he tells Slon in an interview, “As a result of standardized testing, even many kids in Ivy League universities can barely think around a corner” (qtd. in Slon 49).
The American College Testing exam, otherwise known as the ACT, was literally my ticket to the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I had taken the test during my junior year of high school and received a composite score of 26 out of a possible 36. While this score was above average, it merely granted me admission to colleges like UNO. With little to no money being saved towards my post-high school education, I was going to need more than an ACT score of 26 in order to attend college without turning to student loans that would prove to be costly in the end.
I tried everything to acquire the tuition money after I was accepted into my choice college UNO. Just about every major scholarship website still has my profile and academic details: ScholarshipMonkey.com, FastWeb.com, Scholarships.com, EducationQuest.org, and DoSomething.org. Filling out all the information for the separate accounts and profiles, applying to all sorts of scholarships and financial aid I was eligible for, and even just waiting to see if I would receive any sort of aid was a taxing process, and proved relatively fruitless when no responses came back from the scholarship organizations. Plans of what the future had for me were flying through my head. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to attend college without acquiring a hefty amount of student debt; what if I took a year off to work and save money for tuition? Could I come across a career that I’m satisfied with that doesn’t require a degree? Will I have to live with my parents for longer than expected or could I support myself? Constant questions about how my post-high school life would end up followed me throughout most of high school until my senior year, when I signed up give the ACT another try.
I was never the best at studying for tests, and that’s why during the night before the exam, I decided to take a practice test for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) exam. Don’t ask why I thought taking a preparation test for the SAT was a good way to prepare for the ACT but it was what was at my disposal at the time. After taking the test I didn’t know what was in store, it was my last chance at getting some sort of substantial financial aid. So when, a couple weeks later, I didn’t know what to expect when my mother gave a slight gasp and left her mouth agape after she checked my ACT composite score. I took a look for myself at my score and a wide grin spread across my face; I managed a composite score of 32, something less than 2% of the ACT test takers would be able to say. A feeling of relief washed over me as I realized what my score really meant: that I would be able to attend UNO with my tuition paid for. And as I sit here and write this entry I can’t help but think how blessed I was to receive that score and that I could have just as easily been denied financial aid or even access to college because of a single standardized test score. But what if it was just luck that I received that score, or that the cram session the night before the test was really what raised my score? Was it because that, much like other standardized tests that the test content was possibly biased or pandered to the knowledge that the typical white middle-class student possesses? Was the score a fluke? These questions can bother me at times, and it gives me little comfort that I am sitting here today writing this because of a single test.
Barth, Patte and Ruth Mitchell. “Standardized tests and their impact on schooling: Q&A.” centerforpubliceducation.org. 16 Feb. Web. 2006. 4 Oct. 2013.
Nemesis, Sydney and Chloe Doyle. “EMINEM LYRICS.” Azlyrics.com. Web. 28 Nov. 2013
Slon, Steven. “Teaching To The Test Gets An ‘F’.” Saturday Evening Post 285.5 (2013): 47-
49. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
“Standardized Tests ProCon.org” ProCon.org. 20 Sep. 2013. Web. 19 Sep. 2013.