Gina Vaynshteyn
May 05, 2015 6:03 pm

“Standardized tests: the fastest way to terrify any child with five letters, aside of just whispering the word ‘clown.'”

John Oliver starts off last Sunday’s segment of Last Week Tonight by saying something that (probably) resonates with most of us. And the terror is so real, that students have started boycotting the tests en masse, skipping class or simply not going to school the day the tests are given. You can’t really blame them — Oliver reports that testing is so dreadful and so overwhelming, it’s now commonplace to see students literally become sick out of fear and pressure to perform well.

“This happens so much, there are official instructions for test administrators specifically what to do if a student vomits on his or her test booklet,” Oliver states. Clearly something is very, very wrong if we’re already assuming students are going to throw up as a result of taking a test. But the physical effects are only a small portion of the problem.

The other issues with standardized testing involve the students’ teachers, who are now being paid based on their pupils’ scores. While this sounds reasonable in theory (effective, talented teachers deserve higher salaries, right?), Oliver explains that, often times, the numbers just don’t add up. Literally, they don’t add up. Oliver gives an example of a teacher who was given negative feedback on his teaching evaluation because of unrealistic (and impossible) expectations.

The teacher explains, “I have four students whose predicted scores were literally impossible. One of my 6th grade students had a predicted score of 286.4 [based on a set formula used across the board]. However, the highest a 6th grade student can earn is 283. The student DID earn a 283, incidentally. Despite the fact that she earned a perfect score, she counted negatively toward my evaluation because she was 3 points below her ‘predicted’ score.” 

Oliver then poses the rhetorical question, “If standardized tests are bad for teachers and bad for kids, who are they good for?” The answer manifests itself in the form of corporations like Pearson Education, which is basically a monopoly that controls all tests of all kinds given to students across the nation.

Furthermore, the grading process seems (in some cases) rushed and arbitrary. One former grader confessed that he had maybe two minutes to look over an essay, and five seconds to check a short answer. Sometimes, Oliver reports, a grader isn’t even allowed to give the student a good grade because it affects the quota they’re given to meet. (Guys, the success of our country’s students might be dependent on a quota.)

On the other side of the argument, some people claim that the students’ innate fear of standardized tests means they’re just “lazy,” or “don’t work hard enough,” and that demonizing testing isn’t the answer. But Oliver has compiled enough evidence to show that ever since the increase of standardized tests, our overall academic scores as a country have actually gone down. (In fact, many publications and studies have concluded these tests don’t equate to a better education.)

John Oliver finishes the segment by saying, “Look. We’ve had more than a decade of standardized testing now. And maybe it’s time to put the test to the test. The original goal was to narrow the achievement gap and boost our scores relative to the rest of the world.” And that has totally failed to happen.

So maybe it’s time we rethink the way we measure scholastic capabilities. Maybe we put the Scantrons and Number Two pencils to rest for awhile.

Watch the portion of Last Week Tonight right here:

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