Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Some people have always been good at taking tests.
I am not one of these people.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep feeling of anxiety creep up as a large test neared. Once I finish the exam, my anxiety would merely shift to waiting for the scores to come out, creating an all-around negative experience. Needless to say, test taking has never been my strong suit.
This is a reality I and many other students around the country must face, as standardized testing has been a mainstay in American education for over a century. In Maryland, standardized testing begins in the third grade, as students are required to take the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), a yearly standardized test for students in grades three through eight. The tests, which examine “reading and math achievement,” take about 90 minutes per day across a four-day testing period. The data collected from these exams is used to determine whether students have met educational standards specified in the Maryland Content Standards and allows teachers to adjust their teaching methods going forward.
Like most things, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted this process. This past fall, only 15 percent of the state’s public school students in grades three through eight showed mathematical competency after taking the math portion of their MSA test, down from 33 percent in 2019. For the English portion, the same trend was exhibited: 31 percent this past fall compared to 44 percent in 2019. To make matters worse, another study found 51 percent of third graders who passed the math portions of the MSA in 2019 did not pass the same portion as fifth graders in 2021, and the same was true for the English portion, at 47 percent.
While the direct cause of this trend has yet to be proven, it’s obvious the move to online learning is at least in part to blame for this unfortunate phenomenon. While remote and online learning might’ve been a momentary adaptation to the public health crisis, it is definitely here to stay. School systems nationwide will need to learn how to reimagine their relationship with technology, as virtual education services can be the key to combating the educational issues of the future. While educators nationwide hash out new ways to do this, one thing is clear: Going back to our old methods of testing is inefficient and unnecessary. As we look to design more virtual-based education programs, we must make the way we administer standardized tests a thing of the past.
It is no secret that standardized tests don’t actually serve their main purpose of assessing educational ability. Several students’ success with standardized tests — specifically university admissions exams — is oftentimes tainted by the ties to race and wealth, proving the inability of standardized exams to test students fairly. Another main criticism of standardized tests rests in how teachers prepare for exams. “Teaching to the test,” the practice of teaching students solely information that will appear on the exam, creates students who can take tests and not students who have other skills that are important in and outside of the classroom, such as critical thinking and empathy. It is clear there is a gap between the goal of standardized tests and what we hope to have them accomplish.
While education attempts to go back to normal, we must find a way to fill this gap. Rather than putting the computers away, we have an opportunity to use technology to improve the way we test our students and prepare them for the real world. For example, technology gives us new ways to see what our students know — and how they express it. Screen recording technologies could allow us to see exactly how students arrive at their answers, as opposed to just checking that they chose the right answer, which could have been merely a lucky guess. Time-keeping technologies could allow us to see how much time students take to arrive at their answers, and on which parts of the exam they struggle to finish. The endless scope of the internet allows for a more open-ended approach where exams could have students start at the same place — for instance, a prompt or question — and measure where they end up given the tools at their disposal. Therefore, if testing requirements do have to stay in place — because in theory, tests should provide educators objectivity, comparability and accountability advantages — the tests can help turn our students into practical adults who can function in the real world, instead of robots who are good at memorization and filling in answer sheets.
The world is constantly changing, and the aftermath of the pandemic proves this perfectly. So if we still decide to move forward with standardized testing — despite its inefficiencies — it is imperative we use the virtual technology we developed during the pandemic to revitalize the way we test students.
Anthony Liberatori is a junior environmental science and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.