Adaptive Learning, Thoughts

The Failure of Standardized Tests – An Open Letter to Policy Makers, Voters, Educators & Parents

standardize assessment anxiety

Dear Policy Makers, Voters, Parents, and Educators:

I fail standardized assessments regardless of what type of extra help I receive. Below is my story of what would happen if I was a public school student in today’s schools: my bad test taking would cause my school to be labeled as poor, and my teacher and administrator to be labeled as ineffective. Administrators, teachers, other educators, parents, policy makers and voters need to hear from people like me because our test failures aren’t really understood. We don’t do well on standardized assessments – period. You can try your best, but teaching us test taking strategies and remediation help won’t work for us. We need to be heard from and listened to because our stories matter in the discussion of whether standardized assessments are appropriate, what kind, how many, what the ratings should be, and the implications the ratings have. I am also an educator, so I can address this both as a student who has failed standardized assessments numerous times and as an educator who has given them.

Standardized assessments are not the answer for improving student learning, school success rates, high school graduation, college admissions, or to help save the American K-12 public schools from lapsing behind those of other countries. There are students in the K-12 American public schools who are just like me. Why do schools now focus so much on standardization and trying to improve test scores when some students’ test scores won’t improve regardless of what you try to do?

If I were a student right now, I might not pass high school if passing a standardized assessment were a condition to graduate. And, I may not be able to attend college. My SAT scores were a 900 both times I took it. I did try to study and did try to learn test taking strategies. Neither helped me do better on the SATs. Although I received bad scores, I graduated with honors, attended college and earned my bachelor’s degree in teaching.

If I were a student now in the American K-12 schools, my teacher could be rated as ineffective and my administrator could be rated poorly. This is because I know I would have bad standardized assessment scores on the yearly standards assessments required for NCLB. My assessment scores would count against my school for making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) under the No Child Left Behind law. The fact that I do poor on assessments would have huge implications on my school, principal, and the teachers that have worked so hard to help me.

When I was in school and had taken standardized assessments, my teachers tried to intervene. Fact is, I did learn and understand, but was just horrible at taking tests. No intervention method helped that.

If the GRE was required for entrance to every graduate school, I wouldn’t have my master’s degree now. And more importantly, nor would I have had the many career successes I’ve had since. I’ve worked for several top names in the education sector because of my knowledge, skills and hard work. Did failing the GRE show that I wouldn’t do well as a graduate student? No. I earned my master’s degree and graduated with honors. Why? Because, I am very motivated to do well in school and am very inquisitive to learn. I just stink at taking tests.

If I were a student in a public American school now, I might be classified with a learning disability. Why? I don’t do well on standardized assessments. My scores often don’t improve regardless of what studying I do to help them. Does doing badly on standardized assessments and not showing improvements with intervention methods make me learning disabled? No. There are many students out there like me. Does the fact that they don’t do well on tests make them learning disabled? No, not necessarily.

My test taking struggles did not make me a failure, nor ever made my teachers viewed as ineffective. My inability to pass standardized assessments has never been a reflection of the quality of education I received at the schools I attended. My inability to pass the tests was never an indication of a poor principal in my schools. In American schools today, would students be able to make the same statements here I’m able to make. Probably not! Their answer would probably be this. Since I can’t pass a standardized assessment, my teacher is ineffective. Since my standardized assessment scores don’t improve year to year, my school is not a good school and my principal is not good. There is something wrong here! I honestly find it very disturbing.

If I were in public school today with so much focus on standardized assessments, I probably would get burnt out, give up, rebel, do poorly, maybe not graduate high school and even something worse. I would hate education and stop caring. Why would I do this? Eventually when you fail tests too many times, it gets very emotionally draining, you get very anxious about taking tests, you begin to resent them, and you just give up on caring to do well.

My inability to pass standardized assessments has never held me back! I have never been defined by failing tests. Failing tests has never made me unsuccessful as an adult. I have been completely the opposite. Failing tests and being able to do what I needed to do to learn in freedom and in the way I needed to learn, did very great things for my motivation to succeed.

No standardized assessment taught me the most important things in life I needed to be successful. I learned perseverance, determination, motivation, strength, resiliency, truth, faith, belief, possibility, hope, and the value of hard work. I learned that although a paper says I fail, I am not a failure. I learned to trust and believe that my abilities and gifts would get me places in life. These are the abilities that can’t be measured on a standardized assessment.

Today’s heavily assessment-focused culture, is hurting students, teachers, administrators, parents, and everyone that works in a school. As an educator, I have seen the damage the testing culture is having on our students. I have seen fear put into students if the students don’t pass the test. I have seen students with high-test anxiety. I have seen students who hate school because of the testing culture. I have seen students that give up and don’t care and check ‘C’ as every answer on the test. These actions are multiplied and the negative feelings are intensified for students like me who don’t do well on standardized assessments.

What do students like me need? We need learning freedom. We need to be believed in, supported, and encouraged. When we fail a test, we need to be told that the test score doesn’t matter. When we fail a test, we need to be told that we are smart. We need to be encouraged to put forth determination and motivation to pick ourselves up again. We need to know that a test score won’t keep us from graduating high school. Students like me need to know that the learning environment is safe, peaceful and has our best interests at heart. We need our abilities to learn and succeed to be trusted. Students like me don’t need more standardized assessments, school remediation, after school learning, tutoring, or summer school. We need less of it and more practical and creative learning.

Policy makers, when you say that teachers, principals and schools need to be held accountable for student standardized assessment scores, you communicate to me that don’t care about students like I was. You are saying to me that you don’t understand or value the way I learned and what I really needed for success. Your actions communicate that you think that extra teaching and intervention will help students like me. From experience, I can wholeheartedly tell you that these efforts don’t work. There are thousands of students out there like me in the American public school system who can’t improve their test scores. Why and how can it be solved? You need to understand that we just don’t do well on tests. It’s simple. As a bad test taker it is heartbreaking so see that you think teachers, administrators or schools should be held accountable for students’ bad test scores, when students like I was can’t do better on them.

Policy makers please stop passing so many laws with so much emphasis on standardized assessments. Please listen to people like me because it matters. We matter! Our inability to pass the tests that you love to impose on us, matter. Too many people’s lives are being effected by the implications of students failing standardized assessments. This is all from laws you have passed, like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now the Common Core State Standards Assessments. Too many teachers, administrators and schools are being labeled as ineffective or poor because you don’t stop to listen or consider the learning and test taking abilities or inabilities of students like me.

Rethink the implications your laws have on students. Please stop the madness before it ruin students’ futures. We don’t need future Americans who are labeled as failures and learn to have a failure mentality. Is that the type of American education system you want? Is that the type of education system our future leaders should grow up in? We need future adult Americans to be ready to handle adulthood. Our countries’ future depends upon modeling students into adults who can think, be creative, apply themselves, have determination, understand adversity, understand how to persevere, and most importantly understand the value of hard work.

Think about it. Consider students like me! Listen to us! Have open discussions! It matters!


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About adaptivelearnin

I am an educational professional who is passionate about needs analysis and materials creation to enhance student learning of all ages. I hope the content I share here will be of value to you in some way. Opinions are my own and are not those of my employer. Join me at my session for the 2013 TESOL International Conference, "ESL Instruction: Developing Your Skills to Become a Master Conductor", March 21 10:00 AM in room C144. My presentation focuses on listening, speaking and pronunciation music teaching techniques incorporated with ESL teaching. This is not your typical music/ESL presentation with chants and songs. Be prepared to use your vocal chords, diaphragm, lungs, mouth muscles, and arms like you have never used before in pronunciation, speaking and language instruction. Learn how to use music conducting skills in the language classroom to better facilitate language acquisition. Learn how to use music performance skills (vocal and instrumental) to better facilitate language learning. Be prepared to laugh and have fun. I look forward to meeting you and working with you.


4 thoughts on “The Failure of Standardized Tests – An Open Letter to Policy Makers, Voters, Educators & Parents

  1. I’m an educator too, and have also seen students randomly fill in bubbles. The whole testing PROCESS is draining and burdonsome for some many of our students. You hit the nail on the head with “No standardized assessment taught me the most important things in life I needed to be successful. I learned perseverance, determination, motivation, strength, resiliency, truth, faith, belief, possibility, hope, and the value of hard work”. Thanks for the pingback.

    Posted by A Morning Grouch | August 26, 2013, 8:17 pm
    • Thanks for the support and comment. It is true. I’m speaking from my own experiences as a student and as a teacher. Students do get bored and the tests don’t teach any practical skills that will help students as adults. There are much better things to do with students’ time, like exploration of ideas and experimenting with ideas for learning. Students will learn far better life skills from learning to think for themselves than by regurgitating rote information by taking standardized tests.

      Posted by adaptivelearnin | August 26, 2013, 11:26 pm


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