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Too many tests

Everyone who has gone to school has had to take tests. There are the infamous pop quizzes, tests on chapters, midterms, and finals. As for the questions, they come in all types. There are multiple choice, fill in the blank, true or false, essays, and math and science questions that include that infamous phrase, “show your work.”

During the course of twelve years in the public school system the average student has to take hundreds of different kinds of tests. I am 55 years old, have been out of school for a long time, and still from time to time have a dream that I have showed up for class and the teacher is giving a test I didn’t even know about. That’s how deep seated the testing experience can be to some people

But, those are just tests written and given by teachers. Teachers need them to measure student performance. However, about twenty years ago, in an initiative launched by then Governor George Allen the Commonwealth introduced the “Standards of Learning.” The initial goal was sound. There needed to be a better way to track student achievement against a recognized standard. This approach contributed to better curriculum planning and continuity of instruction between grades. It wasn’t an easy transition, but more and more schools, thanks to this use of educational have improved their performance.

Unfortunately, like every government initiative there is a tendency to go overboard. Now entire sections of the school calendar are taken up with standardized testing. Between the standards of learning and the “no child left behind” requirements there are nearly 46 different standardized exams our students have to take before they graduate. Even over twelve years that’s a lot of examinations. Add these 46 exams to the regular rotation of quizzes and exams and it’s a wonder there is any time left over for instruction. Also, being standardized tests, usually multiple choice in nature the emphasis tends to be on rote memorization. The nuances of a subject, history or English literature for example, are hard to test this way. As is writing, argument and more advanced reasoning skills. Most teachers don’t teach to the test. But, many still feel this overemphasis on standardized has made it difficult for them to teach the way they should. It’s become far more difficult, as many teachers would like to do, to go into more in depth on a particular subject or even to introduce something outside the curriculum other than that mandated and tested through the SOLs.

Standardized testing is valuable, but too much testing and feeling that everything revolves around these standardized exams, is not a good thing. Already, children, starting in elementary school, under heavy pressure from the schools, suffer test anxiety when the SOLs are given. Usually that kind of fear is saved for later years. But, that’s on top of all the other tests (the ones that determine their grades) they have to take. There are several bills in the legislature aimed at curtailing the number of tests and revisiting their content. That sounds like a really good idea. That is, before someone dreams up another test.

—Reach David Kerr at
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