Cathy Davidson’s new book Now You See It discusses how schools are still designed for the last century even in the midst of all the amazing advances in technology, and one specific flaw in the education system is the standardized benchmarks that students are expected to make. “Part of our failure rate in contemporary education can be blamed on the one-size-fits-all model of standards that evolved over the course of the twentieth century; as we narrow the spectrum of skills that we test in schools, more and more kids who have skills outside that spectrum will be labeled as failures” (Davidson 77). Reading this quote from Davidson’s book made me think of my high school days when I had to take a different standardized test every year, sometimes more than once. Our teachers explained it to us that these tests were designed to make sure that we were on track in our education, but I knew plenty of my classmates who always struggled with the standardized tests and were in the advanced classes. Unfortunately, when they didn’t do well on the standardized tests they had to go for extra learning sessions before and after school and re-take the test on a later date, or else they would not be able to advance to the next grade.
It is obvious that the education system is seriously flawed, as some of the smartest kids in my grade are penalized and even sometimes left behind for the year if they don’t meet the state’s standards. These tests also affect students who want to continue to higher education. We are told that our SAT scores heavily determine which college we get accepted to, and kids are forced to rack their brains for months on end making sure we can navigate confusing questions on reading, writing and math. There is even an entire industry of tutors, classes and books claiming to help students pass this standardized test, but not without a hefty price tag. I personally took a SAT prep class when I was in high school, and my parents probably paid about $2000 for a 6-9 week class that I only attended on Saturdays and Sundays.
I mean, in the long run my parents probably thought it was a worthy investment because these test scores determined the fate of my college education, but my brain was unfortunately incapable of learning Math the way the SATs wanted me to and it proved to be a problem when seeking higher education. I took the test 3 times just to improve my math score (because my mother insisted and wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection) and in the end it stayed at a solid 550 the entire time. My mother was so worried about it that she went so far as to say that she didn’t think I’d get into my dream school of Syracuse University because my SAT Math score was below a 600. The fact that I was applying to a communication program that didn’t involve any expert Math skill at all didn’t make her change her opinion…until I actually got accepted!
The acceptance department at Syracuse University was able to see past my horrible SAT Math score and accept me based on my high SAT Reading and Writing scores, my excellence in English classes all throughout high school, and my written essay. But I know that not every student is rewarded even if they have one piece of the intellectual puzzle missing. Sure, my parents were able to financially provide me with resources that helped me to succeed in the world of standardized testing; but what if someone can’t pay $2000 for a prep class? What if they only have to rely on their own intelligence, study methods, perseverance, and academic dedication to get them through this difficult exam? And what if, god forbid, a student learns and thinks differently than the test measures? Then what?
What happens is that they are denied the same opportunities that I am offered because they cannot prove their intelligence in other ways and they can’t afford resources to help. “Because in the United States, going to college requires money for tuition, our emphasis on college as the grail of secondary education only rubs in its inaccessibility to lower income kids-a fact that contributes to high school dropouts” (Davidson 76). It is unfortunately believed that if they can’t meet the standards of the test, then they must be behind intellectually and are immediately considered to not be as smart as the rest of the class. The students them believe this about themselves and then don’t see the point in asking for extra help or opportunities from teachers. Also, teachers then decide to not spend as much time and educational resources on students who are under the state standard because they believe that they cannot improve and they unfairly invest their time and efforts into students who they believe will succeed.
The words of Davidson are correct. The educational system is structured on an century old standard that doesn’t highlight the new way of learning that kids are adapting to through technology, and when they don’t meet those standards they are discouraged to succeed, held back if and when they miraculously pass standardized tests, and are denied the resources to succeed because no one thinks that they can. Politicians talk about “no child left behind” and improving the educational system, but they first need to open their eyes and identify the correct problem. Change the standard, and things will improve.