Amanda Raymond column: The test of the unfair quiz

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 29, 2015

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, a social studies teacher gave us a pop quiz. I was not worried — I paid attention in class and did my homework, so I assumed I would do fine. But when I got the quiz paper, I could only stare at it. I did not know anything on the quiz. So I put down some guesses and turned the quiz in to my teacher.

Of course, when I got the quiz back, I had failed it. Other students around me also said they did not do well, so I was not worried. After all, it was only one quiz. I did not think it could affect my final grade too much if I did well on everything else.

A little later in the semester, I overheard another teacher talking about the quiz. She was saying that it was not fair that we, as students, did not know anything on the quiz and that it still counted towards our grades. If she were us, she would say something about it.

So some students did. Naturally, it was mostly the overachieving, advanced placement students who complained about it. The teacher was adamant about the quizzes — he was not going to offer a retest or keep the quiz from counting towards our final grades. I even remember one student crying about the situation.

Finally, the social studies teacher fessed up. It was all a lesson to show us how unfair it was for the colonial British government to demand taxes without representation. Apparently it was a lesson he teaches every year.

But that was not the lesson I learned that day. That day I learned how okay I was with failing yet another test.

We students did not even think to question the unfairness of the test until another teacher said something about it. We just took it as yet another test in a long string of examinations that we would have to take. You lose some, you win some, and hopefully the good grades will outweigh the bad ones in the end.

President Barack Obama recently admitted that all of the standardized testing going on in classrooms today is too much. He said he wants to reduce the amount of classroom instruction time spent on tests to 2 percent.

On one hand, I am sure most students are jumping for joy. With standardized tests and other tests that students take to examine their readiness for those standardized tests, students are tested so much these days. A survey from the Council of the Great City Schools found that, on average, students take 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and their senior year of high school. Any student would be happy about cutting down on the stress and pressure of taking that many tests throughout their educational career.

But on the other hand, some students may see fewer tests as more stressful. When there are a lot of tests and quizzes, not doing as well on a couple is not such a big deal. But when there are only one or two tests for the whole semester, the pressure to do well on those tests escalates. The tests will weigh heavier on their final grades, which means they better do well on every test or they will have some bad news for their parents when report cards come out.

There is value in knowing how students are doing compared to each other and other cohorts. When I finally learned how to read the results of those tests, I liked learning where I was compared to other students in the country. Standardized tests have their place, but when I was so overwhelmed with taking test after test, they kind of lost their potency for me. I did not even think to complain about an unfair test because of all of the other tests and quizzes I knew we would take that could balance out my grade. Devoting more class time to actually learning just to learn, instead of learning to do well on a test, seems more beneficial in my eyes.

If the push for fewer standardized tests actually goes through, maybe future students of that seventh- or eighth-grade teacher will say something about that unfair quiz sooner than my class did because it would matter more to their grade than it did mine.