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Stress on High Test Scores Inhibits Learning

Luke Mandel, '20, Staff Writer

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In school, and Strath Haven in particular, students are constantly focused on the upcoming test and homework for
the night rather than learning and understanding the subject matter. The unfortunate reality is that when faced with the choice of studying for a test along with completing the large amount of homework for the class versus trying to improve one’s understanding of the material and learn what they find to be interesting, the vast majority will choose the former.

The emphasis on tests is seen in how students are graded. The test and, ultimately, the grade in the class are seen
to be the measure of how well one understands the material, but this concept has the fatal flaw that it gives an objective score to a subjective process that should be performed out of interest and intellectual curiosity, not out of fear of a poor grade. Grades are thought to be a motivator for students to learn, but grades inherently promote a strict curriculum in which the student must follow the course of study which has been laid out, rather than taking
learning into their own hands. When one believes that the grade is what matters, and not an understanding of the material, the entire purpose of grades is called into question. Now, however, this is not just a belief, but a reality. The grade matters for the next class level into which a student is placed, it matters for their GPA, and finally, it matters for college, which many consider to be a major factor for one’s direction in life. Knowing one has the ability to fail if they don’t study the “right” material adds further pressure that hampers the learning process. This unwanted pressure can turn a subject that one would otherwise really enjoy into a stressful course.

Additionally, failing in the learning process is not inherently bad, though it is made out to be. Failing allows one to
learn from their mistakes and improve their understanding, but the culture has become that one must fear failure and do everything in their power to avoid it. We even refer to that as being a good student! How can we acknowledge this problem and yet recognize it as a positive quality? This is the entire philosophy behind quizzes–that one can know where they are in preparation for the test, but when the quiz can sink a grade almost as much as the test, there is little room for failure. Testing assumes everyone must have a complete understanding in order to succeed, but very few people have a perfect understanding of any subject matter. Another unwanted pressure is homework, which, in theory, is an activity that promotes learning, but does it in a flawed manner. For starters, homework is a stresser that takes up an entire second shift. The philosophical problem with homework is that if one truly needs to spend a whole second shift of their day to get a firm enough grip on the material, then there is too much material or the course needs improvement. Optional homework would be more beneficial for everyone because students who need a better grasp of the material can elect to do extra work, while others do not have to do so. It would benefit those who wanted do other things with their time, who would then not have to worry about getting a poor grade in that class. It would benefit everyone in that students could get more sleep with less stress and perform better in the classroom,
while the teachers benefit from a happier and more receptive student body to teach, and have fewer assignments to grade. Everyone wins, so why are testing and homework such a large part of our school careers?

Learning is not something that can be enforced. That does not mean one would not have to attend school. It must come from the learner or it is of little use. Learning is like water, it is precious and vital to human existence, but if it is tainted, it can carry disease. In this case, the school system has fallen to plague. It is often inefficient in what it tries to do, and while its intentions are good, it is lacking in the execution of these good intentions. The moment
learning is enforced, it loses its purity, and after a while, disappears altogether. If the positive side of this were the case, one would find relatively happy and unstressed students who could enjoy learning or not, as they saw fit. But this is not the case, and learning has all but evaporated into a cloud of stress that rains down like an angry god.

Solution? Do away with standardized testing and most of regular testing, as well as the vast majority of homework.
In a perfect world, what would this look like? Hand the process over to the students. The individual students are the
only ones that know what this looks like for them; teachers cannot be expected know what learning looks like for one individual to the next, and likewise, there is not an exclusive wa y to learn something. Even if there were a single way to learn something, a test does not prove an understanding of it, it only proves a student was able to memorize a large amount of information with a good enough “understanding” of the material to pass the test. A test puts limits on how much one needs and wants to learn. It promotes laziness in a stressful manner in that one only has to memorize the information with the ability to build upon it a little, but in large quantities and with the precept that retention of facts is the goal. However, a test also creates the precept that once that unit is finished, the information learned in that unit has been learned and will not be needed again. It is essentially a paradox of rationals for testing. Now that the facts of the matter have been stated, the philosophical question here is whether learning to memorize facts in order to pass a test is better, or taking interest in understanding material to the best of one’s ability. That, of course, can differ from person to person, but there should still be the option within the curriculum for a student to do either, while not having the stress of the possibility of failing while trying to do their best. In conclusion, modern test-laden education does not promote learning, but rather dissuades it. Testing does not even achieve its prime goal–to make sure one has learned, which is counter intuitive, as learning is an independent activity that has a wide range of methods and intensity among a student population. In order to remedy this issue, standardized testing should be completely eliminated, regular homework and testing decreased, and the option of learning handed back to the students.

The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.
Stress on High Test Scores Inhibits Learning