Evan W. Minnesota

Standardized Failure

The standardized testing system that we currently use is flawed, and should be fixed. This paper covers the problems and solution to this issue.

Dear Next President,

As students we find ourselves in testing situations hundreds, if not thousands of times throughout our academic career. For most students, these tests can be extremely stressful, especially during high school. A large majority of high school tests are taken in the same format of filling in a bubble labeled A-E, once you’ve found the answer to a question, and then repeating this process throughout the entire test. While it might seem like a viable solution to determining academic success, simple numbers are not enough to fully and fairly evaluate a student’s abilities.

I feel as though my strengths as a student are not primarily manifested in my cognitive abilities or my problem-solving skills, but rather in my creativity and enthusiasm, as well as my ability to endure multiple intensive projects simultaneously without any sign of stress. Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, an education researcher, stated that standardized tests are essentially unable to measure many attributes a student may have, such as: their resourcefulness, leadership, persistence, and integrity, among other things. Also among these things were the several strengths I had mentioned earlier, like my creativity, endurance, and enthusiasm. Given my strengths, I often feel like I am not being given a fair chance to succeed, because the standardized tests are not complex enough to evaluate my skill set. Instead I find myself being forced to adapt to the testing format, and sacrifice my natural strengths, so that I can temporarily memorize facts and formulas.

The common mentality surrounding standardized testing is that they make student evaluation easier, while also making a simple system that most students can succeed from. Standardized testing seems like a perfect solution for students and teachers alike, but this mentality is not our reality. A study performed by the Brookings institution showed that 50-80% of year-over-year testing scores were increasing not because of any kind of improvements from the students, but instead because of regular fluctuations. This study shows that these tests are not causing any significant difference in the student's’ performance, and aren’t a reliable method to achieve academic success among the majority of students. While there are a large number of students that can perform excellently on these tests, there is also a large number that may not feel entirely comfortable, if at all, with the way they are being evaluated, and can’t perform to their full potential, because of the way that these exams are formatted.  Any scientist can tell you that no two brains are the exact same. So why should we expect most students to succeed when they are all tested the exact same way.

This standardized testing method has been used for decades, but in 2002 the “No Child Left Behind” was passed which essentially put more of a focus on leveling the playing field for all students, in order for them all to have a fair chance at success. At the time this seemed like it would be a positive strategy for increasing the U.S.‘s global ranking in education, but in the following few years there were several consequences that led to an overall controversial stigma surrounding the NCLB act. Before the act was passed, the U.S. was ranked 18th in mathematics in 2001. Only eight years later, in 2009, the U.S. was ranked 31st in mathematics, and had also seen a similar decrease in science test score rankings. While these declines in test scores might not be entirely due to the NCLB act, it would be the most likely cause since it was the most significant change in the U.S. education system that had occurred within that timespan.

The system in place for standardized testing is a very complex issue, so it only makes sense that it is met with an equally complex solution. The multiple choice sections are unnecessarily extensive, and should be shortened. To compensate for the lack of comprehension questions there should be a new section entirely that is only comprised of multi-step, problem-solving questions. For example, the student could be given a list of materials, and he/she would be tested on their ability to create a unique experiment, or solve an everyday problem. This section of the test could be used to evaluate a student’s creativity, resourcefulness, and other abstract abilities. This section could be reviewed by a select group of officials that would score your creativity and other attributes on a numerical scale. These scores, and the student’s solutions for each individual question could be reviewable by each college that a student applies to.

This issue has affected me, and countless other students across the country, and if it cannot be solved, it should at least be addressed and recognized that there is a flaw in our education system, and our current practices are not our best option if we plan to advance and succeed in the future. Albert Einstein once said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. This is similar to the testing problem, because most students feel that they are inferior if they aren’t able to succeed through the standardized testing system. Not every person is born with the same skills as their peers, and each one of them has their own individual needs and strengths academically, which means that not every person should be tested in the same ways.


Evan Wilson

Grade 10

Saint Paul, MN

Henry Sibley High School


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