Test-taking has overrun the American public school system. If a day goes by without you taking a test, this day deserves pause, recognition, perhaps a moment of silence. Testing has become increasingly prevalent in today’s world because the state believes that a number reveals a student’s level of intelligence—and it has forced the educational system to adhere to this belief.
Don’t get me wrong, it helps if you have half a brain in your head. But you don’t need to be smart to pass these tests; you don’t need to be smart to excel at these tests. What you need is a flexible conscience and some basic school smarts.
Most Americans have a fanatic devotion to the idea that public schools are morally neutral institutions. My child doesn’t learn about God at school, my child learns about science! My child doesn’t learn about oppressive universal belief systems, my child learns about facts! My child doesn’t suffer from the crazed influence of religious moralists, my child is free!
Most Americans are delusional. Sure, your child doesn’t learn about God at school. But your child is not free. No matter how separate Church and state are, your child is still the product of the moral values handed down by the public educational system.
And what are these values? That you are a number. This number is your life. This number is your God. This number is determined by testing. The fact is, when a college initially looks at your application, they are glancing at a few raw numbers. And if you don’t meet a certain threshold, take it to the trash bin. Let’s keep the assembly line rolling people, we’ve got standards to meet!
The problem with the life-or-death attitude surrounding testing is that it creates a society of cheaters. Students are cheating. Teachers are cheating. Parents are cheating. People do not like being identified as numbers. Numbers alienate them. Numbers anger them. Numbers limit them. And so they cheat.
Students, after being stuffed through a test-taking machine for the past decade, are fed up. Testing has no room for discovery, interest or creativity. Students thus choose to use their creativity towards cheating. You see this water-bottle on my desk? There are answers on the inside of the label. You see that post-it note on the bottom of my shoe? It has my cheat sheet for algebra on it. You see my fancy graphing calculator? It has my entire physics notebook stored in a file. Cheating is rampant. The stakes are high, and the students are all too aware of this. If they don’t see a meaningful way up within the system, they will have no problem using cheating to advance.
Teachers also cheat, especially with the implementation of merit-pay systems. Wait, if my class averages 10 points higher, I might get a pay raise? Just keep taking your test, students, while I write this innocent string of letters on the board. Wait, if my class’s language proficiency suddenly advances, I might get a promotion? You know, these essays are suddenly reading so much smoother. What finesse! What brilliance! Yes, you all deserve five points higher. By creating an educational system that rewards “results,” cheating becomes a solution on both the level of the instructor and the student.
Finally, parents are cheating. What do you mean my child is on the waiting list? Do you see the number on this check? I knew we could get past this misunderstanding together. What do you mean my child is bad at test taking? My child has a learning disability; I just had my personal psychologist diagnose him yesterday. Yes, now you won’t mind giving him some extra time on the next test. What do you mean my child doesn’t live in this school district? Don’t you know we’ve always been loyal residents, faithfully upholding that apartment all these years? Yes, now you won’t mind enrolling him the state’s finest public high school. What does a citizen have to do for respect around here? The nerve of you!
The problem with all this cheating is that it doesn’t stop at the school door. After 20 years of living in an environment where cheating is normalized, there is little hesitation to stop cheating after graduation. Cheating happens on many levels.
Don’t want to pay for Wi-Fi at your summer home? Just leech off your neighbor’s network, the password is “password.” Need to make a few extra bucks off of your clients? Just bill them for the time the team spent doing community service. Yes, our company really cares. Not satisfied with your three current homes? Well, chances are this wealth-saturated conglomerate won’t notice a couple hundred million here and there. Besides, the Hamptons were really starting to tire me; I think a new place in Boca could liven things up for me.
If American society wants to see an end to cheating within society, it needs to seriously revise the values it is teaching students. This entails significantly reducing testing. Testing must not continue to run the school system.
The purpose of a school is not to test. The purpose of a school is to inform. The purpose of a school is to enlighten. The purpose of a school is to inspire.
So stop testing me. Start educating me.