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The Literary Rants: Standardized Reading Tests Suck

January 17, 2017
(image via wikimedia)

Students getting ready for the big test.  (image via wikimedia)

Almost everybody agrees that standardized tests suck.  Teachers don’t like them.  Students hate them.  Parents aren’t thrilled about them either.  There are only two groups of people who like standardized tests, government officials and the test makers.

I understand why test makers like standardized tests.  Test makers make a ton of money off of standardized tests.  I’d like something too if I made a ton of money off it.

I’m not sure why government officials like standardized tests so much.  Standardized tests are unpopular.  If government officials got rid of standardized testing, their approval ratings would automatically skyrocket.

If statewide (or national) standardized tests just disappeared, would anybody care?  Would there be protests?  Would there be outrage?

It’s not like Social Security or Medicare.  If you take those away, people notice.  I’m pretty sure students wouldn’t get angry that they never had the opportunity to take a standardized test.  Everybody in the public education system would celebrate.

Even authors whose literature appears on the tests don’t like the standardized tests.  When poet Sara Holbrook saw one of her pieces being used as a reading selection on a Texas test  (the STAAR, whatever that means), she wasn’t really happy about it.  Even worse, she got the answer to one of the questions based on her poem wrong.

A part of me wants to make fun of the poet for missing a question about her own poem.  I’m not trying to be mean.  On the contrary, I’m very empathetic.  When I was in junior high, my math teacher made us write our own story problems.  He then used one of my story problems on the story problems test, and I didn’t get the answer right.  To make matters worse, the teacher announced to the class that I had missed my own test question (Thanks, teacher!).

I give Sara Holbrook credit for admitting that she missed a question about her poem.  It makes a statement.  I too should have made a statement.  I should have used my moment in math class to denounce story problem tests, and I could have used my experience as an example of how a test-taking education system is ruining our generation, but my teacher would have told me to shut up, and everybody would have laughed at me.  Nobody liked protesters where I grew up.

I understand that standardized tests can be used to measure achievement consistently across the state or country.  That’s a decent purpose, but dagnabbit it, I see my kids take too many of them every year.  I don’t even have to take any standardized tests, and I still think there are too many of them.

Maybe there should be only one standardized test per year, and that’s it.  Give schools a day or two to implement it and be done.  And schools can judge the results, but nobody gets fired based solely on those results, unless there’s cheating.  But without so much pressure, there would be less pressure to cheat.

As an aspiring writer, I want a lot of people to read what I write, but being on a standardized test would probably be one of the worst things that could happen.

I mean, my books could get banned (this one for its use of profanity), and I wouldn’t care (it would be great publicity).  The critics could proclaim that my writing is crap, and I wouldn’t care (I might care a little, but not if I’m making money from it).

But please, please, please, never let my writing be used on a standardized reading test.  Everybody hates standardized tests, especially the authors whose works appear in them.


What do you think?  What are some of your standardized test horror stories?

  1. Tests are a pain for everyone and you’re right, serve little purpose.
    We have them here in the UK and all they do is make the teachers channel the kids into learning for the test rather than learning a wide range of stuff or learning because something is interesting or fun.
    They help the government assess the schools (usually so they can condemn the schools for ‘failing’ on the cut budgets that themselves have set) and put pressure on already pressurised kids and teachers.
    Have a day off. Take the kids to the seaside or to the park. Better that than another test

  2. I am a doctor who immigrated to the US 10 years ago. I have taken 9 standardized tests between 2005 and 2016 (and countless practice tests in between). Studying for these tests and taking days off to actually take them (each test is 10 hours long with breaks) takes precious time away from me that could be spent in reading about the latest updates in my field and taking care of patients. And studying for the test is totally different from practice. I assume it is the same for kids. Time spent studying for tests is time spent away from real learning in my opinion.

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