Skewed standards

Standardized tests alone are a terrible and misleading measure of intelligence

The other day I visited the Rankin Art Gallery.

Part of the exhibit was a collection of little boats the artist had made, all signifying sending off various things, much as the dead were sent off and the ferryman paid a toll in Greek mythology. They were all very intricate and fascinating. Some were humorous, some serious. One boat caught my eye in particular. The boat was titled “Barge for Public Education.” On it was a stack of scantrons and a bunch of number two pencils. I let out a sad chuckle as I made my interpretation. The artist, a retired art teacher from Big Rapids High School, felt similarly about the weight education in America puts on standardized testing as I do. In his artistic display, he made me believe he wished it to be sent off and done away with.

I understand tests are often necessary to see what the student knows, but we put far too much merit in this measure of performance. I think we all know the students in our high school who were pothead-no shows that never came to class, yet managed to pull off a 34 on the ACT. Or our 4.0, super hardworking, critical thinking, intelligent peers who absolutely freeze up on test day and can’t perform. Some students simply have test anxiety, or do better in performance or explanation of the concepts.

Let’s put it this way. I’ll use my future profession as an example: Would you rather have a nurse who when you go into cardiac arrest knows exactly what to do and saves your life but just did average on his or her NCLEX exam, or a nurse who passed the NCLEX with flying colors but just stares at you blankly in confusion as you’re at the brink of death? I’ll take nurse number one, thank you.

There are all kinds of different types of intelligence out there. Some people are book smart but can’t tell their right hand from their left hand. Another downside to the weight on standardized testing is the message we send to kids. Look at some of these tests that measure if someone is cut out for college or a certain career simply based on a score. What kind of message does that send to children? All because of a number, we instill untruthful ideas into young minds that they are not good enough. We set them up for failure not because they are incapable, but because we tell them they are.

A final example is one close to home for me. Someone very close to me recently finished his secondary education program. There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be an absolutely phenomenal teacher. He loves life, children and every student teaching experience he’s had has been a huge success. He’s the teacher all the kids go home and tell their parents about how much they love. But his first time taking the licensure exam, he missed it by a point. I guarantee there are students who took that exam, aced it, and won’t be half the teacher this person will be.

It’s time we start using other measures to evaluate our children, and start looking at all types of intelligence. We live in a complex world with many needs, and the strengths of all can be appreciated if we give them a chance.

The most intelligent people can do more than just ace a test. They truly understand the material and can apply it to their everyday life. A standardized test alone can’t measure that.