Testing should be put to the test

John Becker

Testing is an integral part of the education process, and with some subjects it always will be, but it seems there is still no consensus on how beneficial or detrimental standardized tests are to students. Furthermore, the North Wind recently published an article in the Feb. 3 issue titled “More tests help students retain information.” The article’s ideas about increased testing may work well for Dr. Michael Loukinen, a sociology professor at NMU who was interviewed for the article, but I disagree that more tests mean more information retained.

Exams do a reasonable job of testing my ability to recall the spoken lecture, PowerPoint and my hastily scrawled notes, but often these memories are relegated to the short-term and are soon all but forgotten.  It is common for students to worry about an exam, and despite the well-known downfalls of cramming the night before, I find that many of my fellow students still do this.

I understand the need for testing in mathematics and sciences where there is a lot of technical information, but even in most science classes, information can be retained through laboratory work or similar in-class assignments.

I’ve found that testing is effective as a punishment in reading-intensive English classes. If students cannot discuss or go around the room and each say something about the reading, then writing for a grade has always encouraged my fellow classmates to get their noses into their books.

In classes where I always had reading “quizzes,” I found I was more worried about what might be asked on the quiz than on the reading itself. It wasn’t usually detrimental to my grade, but it was only one test. The weeks where I had to worry about exams in multiple subjects were the weeks where I had the greatest risk of testing poorly.

My fellow students and I have not had to bear the burden of standardized tests since high school, but there is a whole new generation of K-12 students who are being pushed through this ridiculous system. As a person who still remembers, I’d like to remind the policymakers who may have forgotten what it’s like to be a student.

Statistics from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, also known as FairTest, calls the SAT a “mind game that has nothing to do with skills necessary for higher education,” and that the ACT does not accurately predict college performance.  Ask a college student how many times they have had to compare various patterns, each in a quarter section of a given quadrilateral, and I bet they would say they haven’t since the ACT, or since playing an online puzzle game.

I’m not a Michigan resident, but I shared in students’ anger when Jennifer Granholm, former governor, stole away the Michigan Promise Scholarship. One big issue with the scholarship was that Michigan students had to score in the Level 1 or Level 2 range of all components of the Michigan Merit Examination to be awarded; students crammed for nothing other than to measure adequate state progress as mandated by No Child Left Behind.

In Illinois, we were given at least two weeks of preparation for the ACT and ISAT, Illinois’ standardized test. There wasn’t even a scholarship incentive for us, but it probably would have been thieved from us if there had been.

Tests aren’t going anywhere, and that’s fine by me. Technical subjects need tests, but let’s keep it to a minimum. Every week or every other week is excessive and will only cause students to worry about getting a good grade, affecting their ability to retain information.