The Keystones: Standardized Testing

Casey Wood, Contributing Writer

Starting on October 15th, sophomores will be taking the optional PSAT Prep test at Central Bucks South, which is just the beginning of the high school standardized testing.

The PSATs are optional, but other tests are mandatory for the whole district to participate in by rule of the state, which makes some people question if the tests should be mandatory, or even exist at all.

Standardized testing skyrocketed after 2002 when the “No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)” became official. According to the NCLB, the act mandated annual testing in all 50 states. It requires 100% of US students to be “proficient” on state reading and math tests by 2014, which was regarded as an impossible target by many testing opponents. The NCLB received many opinions about whether standardized testing should be mandatory or not.

“I understand the purpose of it,” said Mr. Wilson, English teacher at Central Bucks South, “I understand why we want to test the students to assess what they know. I think there are much better ways of doing that. I think the students should have options.”

Although Mr. Wilson believes there is a purpose to these tests, he also doesn’t “think that standardized testing accurately portrays what a student is capable of.”  The frequently mentioned problem of this topic is that some students could have a more challenging time with standardized testing, but still earn good grades in the classroom.

There has been controversy over whether these tests are fair to everyone, Mr. Bucher, the Central Bucks South Principal, said they are not fair. “If a student is identified with a learning disability, and they’re in tenth grade and they’re reading at an eighth grade reading level, it’s our responsibility to develop a program that will allow them to progress with their reading level.”

Although some students have trouble earning good scores on standardized tests, Central Bucks South sophomore, Leah McKinney, said, “My test scores were very similar to how I was performing in school. I did pretty well in both. ”

Besides the fairness debate, studies have shown there is also a possibility it causes stress and anxiety levels to rise around testing time. “As much as I try to keep them calm and relaxed, their anxiety levels definitely raise”, said Mr. Wilson, “It is kind of a big weight on their shoulders.”

“The Keystones, I think, are very stressful for students. The days I took the Keystones were the most anxiety packed days in my year”, said Leah McKinney, “I think the fact you have to retake them if you fail adds a lot of pressure.”

Mr. Bucher also agrees that it causes stress because of how the Keystones go on the students’ transcripts and it is a graduation requirement to pass. When requested, SAT scores are sent to colleges and it places a huge weight on the students.

Lead stated, “Before I took PSSAs I was never nervous because I knew that it was just seeing the best I could do and it was overall a reflection on the school at the end and would not affect my grade. I still tried my hardest but I knew that if I didn’t do well it wouldn’t hurt my grades and would just mean I wasn’t taught the topic well enough. However, I was extremely nervous before taking the keystones because I knew I needed to pass the keystones to graduate and I would have to retake them if I did not. This added a lot of pressure and made me very stressed out and anxious.”

Another believed problem of standardized tests discussed is the amount the state makes mandatory and just the overall amount of testing for the students.  “Over the years, I think the amount of testing has gotten out of control.”, said Mr. Bucher, he also repeatedly stated the testing is “excessive”.

“Not only do they have to prepare for these tests that they’re going to sit, and take for 2 hours, 2 days right in a row, but they also have to keep up with work they have to do for classes.”, said Mr. Wilson. To prepare the students for the two hour testing per day, Wilson prepares them with poetry, basic reading skills, reviews, open ended questions, and difficultly worded questions.

Not only is it a lot of testing, but these tests require a lot of preparation. According to McKinney, “Standardized tests focus on reviewing everything learned throughout the year, but they don’t help me review very much because it’s just so much information at once.”

However, “they do prepare us enough because the packets are basically an entire practice test and I always find the practices to be even more difficult than the actual tests so I’m extra prepared,”, said McKinney, “All the teachers I have also go over the packets in depth and they help students with anything they have questions on in the packets. Sometimes they’ll even give us extra activities to help such as work stations. For English we do a lot of writing prompt practices.”

There are many opinions on standardized testing and whether it should be mandatory or optional, but while these tests are mandatory for graduation, the teachers at Central Bucks South encourage all students to be prepared and try your best on the upcoming standardized tests.