Testing is too testing

One student's attempt to grapple with his general in-class dysphoria

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Sam Westergaard

Ken Wilbur '20 reminisces over time spent studying for the ACT in the West high library.

Ken Wilbur, Podcast Editor

Throughout the past four years, I’ve frequently complained and annoyed my parents with my educational woes. I lament my assignments habitually and feel powerless when I can’t escape a class period which is essentially nonessential. But when it comes to pointing out what exactly has left me feeling like there’s a giant hole where my academic dharma should be, I fail. In reality, I really like my teachers and classmates, and my classes are pretty interesting. After much thought, I have found the source of my woes: too much testing, and too much time spent in class.

Right off the bat, the relentless system of constant assessments is damaging for students and teachers. The amount students care about learning would sky-rocket if knowledge didn’t have to fall into the categories of either essential or worthless to a grade. Every three to four weeks in most math, science and social studies classes students repeat the process of being introduced to a new subject, learning about it and then being tested over it.

The amount students care about learning would sky-rocket if knowledge didn’t have to fall into the categories of either essential or worthless to a grade.”

— Ken Wilbur

This seems like the natural flow of learning, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Tests are a valuable tool to facilitate learning, but using one test to determine a grade after a relatively short period of learning is absurd. As it stands now, teachers are forced to put forth tests that are pretty easy because students understandably can’t perform well over tests that they haven’t spent time preparing for. West has taken a great step in this regard recently by allowing retakes up to 70% on all tests this year. However, this alone is not enough. Schools should make tests hard and retakes the standard. This would take pressure off the initial test and put more of an emphasis on actually learning the in-depth content in classes.

Rigid national and state curricula have cut out any personal embellishments or activities a teacher would like to add to a course. This phenomenon is even worse in AP classes, wherein students are so crammed to learn the topics that they barely have time to make surface connections before being whisked on to the next pressing section. The fact is this process isn’t healthy, and in the 21st century it isn’t necessary. It is nice to have the opportunity to take college-level courses in high school, but it shouldn’t be the norm. In fact, for many kids, it is straight up too difficult.

Beyond testing, the current national system of completion requirements sets a mindset of scarcity for students and faculty, often leaving little room for personal needs and interests. For instance, state requirements for a fourth English class and a third social studies class force a high school student to spend an extra 300+ hours of their life in high school, when they could spending their time on things they deem valuable. The more unfortunate thing is that graduation requirements fail to include some of the most relevant knowledge for people of my generation. Classes on mental health awareness and online data protection have proven to be invaluable life-long resources to students, but schools have neither the funding nor the time to support them.

To wrap up a series of unfortunate complaints, I would like to leave you with one thought. Throughout my four years on 2901 Melrose Avenue, I have genuinely enjoyed being in classes with awesome teachers and peers. In order to improve, high schools should move away from a focus on scores and graduation requirements, and allow more room for the relationships and individualized work that facilitate students to actually grow. Sure, West has a reputation as a great public high school. However, as a student here now of four years, I am firmly convinced that it originates from a dedicated faculty and student body, not from any curriculum, grading or testing practices.