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Standardized Tests: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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Thursday, June 26, 2008; Page PG18

Dear Extra Credit:

It was the night before my third-grade-history Standards of Learning test, and I was studying flashcards. I had them memorized to a T, but I realize now that I knew absolutely nothing of consequence.

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As my mom read the name on the card, Paul Revere, I parroted back the exact words on the flashcard: "The British are coming! The British are coming!" But I didn't know who he was or what his historical significance was. In fact, I told my mom it didn't matter. I needed to know only what he said.

Today's educational system places so much emphasis on standardized tests that the most important aspects of learning are overlooked. Numerous teachers do not teach subjects; they merely teach to tests of the subjects and have taken creativity out of the classrooms.

Teaching to the tests limits possible discussions and free-flowing ideas that spark students' interests and help them to interact with their peers and build on their thoughts. Memorizing answers to test questions and monotonous testing drills do not allow such interaction.

Although standardized testing provides a snapshot of student knowledge, the school year should not revolve around it. Testing should measure what students have learned, not determine what is to be taught. SOL testing emphasizes pass rates rather than true knowledge. In fact, SOL tests have been dumbed down to ensure higher passing rates. The simplicity of the questions makes one wonder whether this is really all that's expected expect of us. Do they really think so little of our ability?

So what are we to do? We live in a competitive society in which testing ability and knowledge has become routine, yet our testing standards continue to be lowered. We cannot simply get a job and succeed because we are able to spit out the correct answer to a multiple-choice question. Society needs people who can discuss, analyze, relate and interpret. Are the SOLs getting it done, or are they hurting students by artificially limiting information and inquiry in the classroom? I think the answer is obvious.

Kelly Wood

Kelly Wood will be a senior at West Potomac High School next year.

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