Killing Creativity

If you were to ask me what discouraged me from ever taking engineering or math courses in my freshman year of college, my immediate answer would have been standardized tests. These pinhead methods of assessing my intellectual capacity defined and what I was or wasn’t good at, creating the false narrative of: “I can never be an engineer. I’m just not good at math.”

learnNew York State required high school students to pass two math Regents exams, and, needless to say, my scores on these exams were mediocre. I passed them, sure, but the disheartening feeling of realizing how poorly you did compared to other students doesn’t encourage a young mind to explore greater opportunities. Although this narrative hit its crescendo in high school, it started ever since I could remember taking standardized exams – Kindergarten. One bad math score turned into another and teachers didn’t do much to help; a bad score on an “official” exam translated into “you’ll never understand this” or “you’re just not good enough.” Why? Well, if McGraw Hill thinks you’re stupid, then you probably are, right?

The idea that an administrator can gauge a student’s abilities based on a series of multiple choice questions is ridiculous at its philosophical core. The multiple choice question, in itself, implies that there can be only one right answer and ignores the thought process, logic, and methodology required to complete the answer. If students guessed the right answer, does that make them smart? Absolutely not. Moreover, ignoring the method or logic used to reach a particular answer misses the point of education entirely, because this is how it works:

  1. A teacher lectures and aides the students in absorbing the required material on a series of designated chapters.
  2. The student takes a multiple choice exam.
  3. The teacher grades the exam and moves on to the next chapter

There is a larger focus on whether or not the student passed. Administrators (from any level of the educational system) are more interested in having students getting the answers right rather than assessing how the students got to the answer and why they chose the answer they did. Standardized testing, or any testing for that matter, is the educational system’s lazy way out. Rather than individually assessing every student holistically, the system treats them like cattle.

John Oliver looked deeper into the standardized testing scam in this investigative piece:

The message is simple: You cannot assess a student’s capabilities based on one exam. And that goes for any standardized exams from the New York State Regents to the LSAT. School is an institution where anyone from a child to an adult goes to learn new skills and ideas. Merely achieving a “passing score” to elevate you into the next grade is not enough to prove that you’ve actually learned something during your one-year tenure at the school. Taking a test is a skill in itself – not an assessment. Students can be good test takers but can also lack the practical and creative skills needed to operate in the complex, global world we live in today. And when school administrators from private institutions to state bureaucracies spew us the bullshit of having too many students to evaluate, then maybe it’s time to restructure our educational system.