Rebecca Rider column: Test time

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2016

I can’t think of anything more boring, or pointless, than standardized tests.

From third grade through my senior year in high school, they were a yearly dread. Not just because they were difficult and stressful, or because I saw them as essentially useless, but because they were mind-numbingly dull. And they were inescapable.

I went to school during the rise of standardized tests, and from almost day one we were warned about standardized tests. I was told I’d better pay attention, because otherwise I wouldn’t pass the EOG. I was in first grade.

By the time third grade rolled around, I was already sick of them. My class practiced all year – everything from reading comprehension to properly filling in a bubble. We had practice test after practice test, which were turned in for grades.

At one point that year, I grew so tired of it that I balled up the pink packet and threw it at my cat. She tore it to shreds, and I got a zero. But I was happy that, for one day, I didn’t have to think about the EOG.

Going over the practice exams took an entire class period. Add EOG practice to the third-grade writing test, the third-grade reading test and regular, classroom quizzes and exams, and that’s a lot of time that was, in my opinion, wasted. All of that was time where I could have been learning about something else.

I hear there are more standardized tests, now, and I wonder when students have the time to learn anything useful – because while I understand why we have standardized tests, they certainly aren’t useful.

I don’t remember the tests, or anything I learned for them. What I remember is being so bored I thought I would cease to exist as a person.

I’ve always finished tests quickly, and standardized tests were no different. Which meant I generally had an average of an hour and a half to sit at my desk and wish I was anywhere else.

Test rules are strict. No talking, no reading, no napping, or resting your head on your desk. No doing anything else but sit there.

I used to save my sheet of scrap paper for doodling, but I always filled it up within 45 minutes. Sometimes, I wasn’t allowed to keep the scrap paper. Sometimes it was taken up by the proctors after the math segment, and I had to stare at a window, or the ceiling for more than an hour.

For a jittery 9-year-old, it was torturous. I would rather have been reading, or doing something useful. Third graders are capable of independent learning. I would have liked to do something besides stare vacantly and think about the previous Saturday’s cartoon line-up.

At this time of year I still get short, quiet flashbacks to those countless wasted hours, and I wish I’d been able to do something – anything else. I wish my time at school hadn’t been wasted because someone, somewhere, wanted a measurable unit of success, and thought that drills were the way to do it.

And though education, particularly on a state or national level, is slow to change you would think that, by now, someone would have figured out that if you want something to grow, you don’t measure it – you feed it.

Contact education reporter Rebecca Rider at or 704-797-4264.