Opinion: Standardized Tests

Just over a week ago, on my way home for Thanksgiving, I was listening to a Podcast on the Art of Education titled “Dealing with Unkind and Unimaginative Students”.  The topics discussed stuck with me, and as the semester draws to a close and the student teacher candidates discuss their placements and beliefs throughout finals we always come back to the question of, “How do we assess our students?”

Personally, I dislike standardized tests because they encourage conformity and teach students that there is only one correct answer.  As a future art teacher, this completely contradicts what I will be teaching—creativity through critical thinking and problem-solving.

A lot of students feel that there is a right and a wrong way to make art, and they are completely wrong.  Yes, there are suggested ways to use certain mediums and right ways that they should be handled or stored, but how students go about manipulating them to create their piece is completely up to them.  Students need to understand that there is no right or wrong way to create art and that it is a process that is built upon.  Behind every great artist, there is a period of experimentation, yet students are afraid of it.  I have come to the conclusion that this has a lot to do with standardized testing, and students believing that there is only one right “bubble” to fill in throughout all aspects of their lives.  Also having being told that their grades matter and define them and those around them, be it on the test or in classes, puts excessive stress on them to get good grades and succeed so they are afraid of making the “wrong” thing.

The Podcast opens up with a small discussion of a previous one in which the hosts discuss some types of students that are difficult to teach and those that they may be biased towards; the student who is unmotivated and unwilling to try anything, a real pessimistic student.  The second student, similarly, is the unimaginative student.  Most students in art classes, like in most educational courses would totally prefer it if the teacher told him or her exactly how to complete the project (much like a math formula) to get the “A” grade they all want so badly.  I completely believe that both the unimaginative and unmotivated students behave this way because their other classes are ‘being taught to the test’.

The hosts of this Podcast bring on an art teacher, named Melissa Purtee, who teaches her classes with a choice-based approach and wrote a book called “The Open Art Room” to discuss these issues.  This woman was an elementary school art teacher in her choice-based TAB (teaching for artistic behavior) classroom and transferred to teach at the high school level having the same expectations and was surprised with the attitude difference towards art. This type of classrooms allows students to insert their own ideas and passions into what they are creating, giving them the freedom to become their own artist.  Melissa creates lessons that are really general and open-ended, giving students the license to be creative and have her there as the facilitator.  Some lessons that she discussed in the Podcast were personal symbols, social commentary, and current events.

Melissa discusses her view, much like mine, on how students’ imaginations are not consistently utilized because of the testing culture in public schools. She states, “Kids are taught to quickly identify the right answer and bubble it in on a Scantron sheet to pass the test with the right grade. That’s kind of our mentality. Teachers have to, and certainly in the general education classroom, have to do some teaching to the test, and a lot of that is telling kids what the correct answer is. I feel like there’s a lack of comfort in exploring in older students that I found just really shockingly different than elementary kids.”

These older students tend to be unimaginative because it is a fear of not knowing what to do and how to do it, so they are uncomfortable with the ambiguity that comes hand in hand with the art room.  Melissa says that a lot of what she teaches is about how to make decisions and how the inspiration process works by showing them different ideas, with the end goal being that they will eventually come up with their own ideas. She teaches her students how to develop those project ideas in a few ways: researching, sketching, or listing; finding resource images; and so on with the end goal of being ready to make something, and then reflecting on their work after creating it. What she says she found helpful is teaching students different techniques for developing ideas because it supports creativity, so instead of feeling lost they have a plan on what to create.

As they say in the Podcast, nobody wakes up in the morning with the mentality that they’re going to be closed-minded, stubborn, or defiant that day. I truly believe that students are being taught to lose their creativity and confidence because of these tests, even if it is not directly being taught it is a direct effect of them. As I have seen in my field placement, students are starting to think that school is not worth their time since they’re only seeing the standardized test at the end of the road. We need to motivate students for their future. As said in the Podcast, it cannot be assumed that students know how to think creatively and think or work outside of the box. It needs to be taught and modeled for them, but testing seems to take away from that. As teachers, we need to figure out who our students are and base our classrooms off of that. No student or person ever wants to do poorly. There is a reason why students are not giving us as much in the way of creativity, be it a result of the test or even outside influences. Either way, our job as teachers is to try to figure out the right way to teach and support our students to get them back on track and thinking in the most creative way possible because it will only benefit them in the long run.

Here is the link to the podcast, for your reference.  How do you feel about standardized tests in schools? Comment below.

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