The toxicity of standardized testing


Aarti Gupta

Students participating in standardized tests often feel pressured and upset by their preparation and scores. This graphic provides an assessment of the standardized tests’ work.

As college application season approaches, students progress through submitting applications to their desired colleges. Applications, exams and other aspects of the application process question the importance of SAT and ACT scores and the toxic environment surrounding them. Students with the motivation to achieve a high score never fail to show their dedication, but sometimes, it can be concerning.

From early on in education, students are subconsciously taught that earning good grades and achieving high scores is what deserves the most praise. This ultimately causes students to resent experiencing failure, feeling sporadic burnout and maintaining motivation when receiving a poor grade. Failure is a universal experience that everyone will go through, yet, it has not been talked about and treated as something that is normal and can be recovered from.

In all honesty, standardized testing and the environment it creates stresses and worries for students planning to go to college or pursue education after high school. It is incredibly dehumanizing that the numbers and letters that are results of these standardized tests are what colleges use to determine how intelligent a student is, rather than observing qualities that are valuable like dedication and drive to achieve goals for future accomplishments. On top of that, the Illinois State Board of Education requires that all students “must participate in the state’s final accountability assessment (currently the SAT)” as a graduation requirement. Essentially, this enforces students and pressures them to take the SAT or else they cannot graduate. Certainly, a student putting in an exceptional amount of effort to score well on a standardized test is understandable, but that effort and unhealthy dedication to achieve an extremely high number can be too much to an extent.

Some students become so circulated with the world of standardized tests that they forget about other aspects of their lives that are important to maintain and engage in, including spending time with family and friends, time to decompress and activities other than academics. This causes students to lose time enjoying their adolescence and their youth because they are so worried as to whether or not they can flourish because of their test scores and where they can attend college/university. According to Claude Steele, a professor of social psychology at Stanford, the test “has been found to measure only about 18 percent of the things that it takes to do well in school, and thus is not a very good predictor of how a student will do in college.” Essentially, the SAT is not even a sufficient measure as to how well a student will perform in college, especially because of the wide range of majors and opportunities for a student to study in.

What is not talked about enough are students’ mental health, personal relationships and overall well-being. From the perspective of a student, it simply feels like mental health is something that is not prioritized within the education system. The American Psychological Association reported finding studies of “eighty-three percent of teens surveyed cited school as a source of stress, sixty-nine percent cited, ‘getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school,’ and sixty-five percent cited, ‘financial concerns for their family.” The survey gathered data from teenagers all across the United States, ages ranging from 13-17. As shown, the number of students that have school as a direct source of stress is incredibly prevalent, and the numbers are only going to increase as time goes on. If a student performs poorly on a standardized exam, they may face criticism and pressure from their parents or other individuals in their circle of influence. This then simply causes them to think lowly of themselves because of how much people say that doing well on these tests is proof as to how smart they are, when that just isn’t true. Academics do not define a student’s intelligence, rather just how much we can accommodate ourselves to the school system and how it is structured. The standardized tests are beneficial to those with the mindset and understanding as to how education is structured and how information is taught to students.

To put it quite simply, the reasoning behind standardized tests is not beneficial for students, their overall health and a true determiner as to who we are as individuals. Sure, they may test what a student knows based on what they have learned throughout their previous years of education, but they cannot represent a student’s full potential as some students have anxiety, ADHD and other conditions that inhibit the potential for a student’s test-taking abilities. 1 and 5 students have learning disabilities including dyslexia and ADHD, and only 1 and 16 public schools have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), reported by IEP programs are plans designed to accommodate and meet the needs of a student for the said disability a student has. Along with this, includes that students who do not receive the amount of support needed to aid their disabilities have a rate of dropping out of high school three times the rate of all students, have a completion rate of finishing any type of college of 41 percent, and adults with these challenges are twice as likely to be unemployed.

Not only can taking the standardized exams be stress-inducing, the months before it and preparing for the exams add on the stress students already endure from other parts of their academic careers. Some students aiming for higher than average scores believe they need to spend hours upon hours preparing for a test that is understood just by how it is built, rather than the information on the test. In other words, the atmosphere surrounding standardized tests is incredibly toxic and should be changed to be a relaxed environment.