My View

School Reform Shortchanges Me: A Student's Take
By CLAIRE A. BOWER/School Administrator, August 2017

Dear Education Secretary DeVos,

Politicians, corporate leaders and others concerned with the education system are all pushing reforms they think will improve schools. What they put in place, I have to live with. As a high school senior, I would like to share what this means. I live with the stress and boredom of frequent standardized tests and the rigidity of the current education system that favors testing over learning. High-stakes testing raises serious questions for me.

My school experience, like most public school students, is a blur. Five days a week we attend classes in an environment that is supposed to support learning, foster originality and promote creative thinking. The reality is much different. We feel constrained by schooling that gives endless tests that inaccurately measure our intelligence, capabilities and quality of our schools.

Standardized testing fails to embrace and cultivate students’ diverse learning capabilities and talents. Material is cut and dry with little consideration for the many ways individuals think and learn. Moreover, standardized tests teach students problems have a single solution, so we seek only one right answer. This closes our minds from viewing problems in creative and innovative ways.

With so much class time devoted to test preparation rather than learning to become conceptual, critical and skeptical thinkers, schools are strangling individuality and shutting down creativity. Time for class discussions and hands-on activities is almost nonexistent.

Why has our nation’s education system lost its focus on creative teaching and taken up such a regimented mentality? Why are we bombarded by hours of multiple-choice test questions mandated by states? Certainly, some testing is necessary, but the amount of standardized testing today is excessive. My classmates and I regularly find our class instruction interrupted by practice tests and test-prep sessions. It isn’t uncommon for us to miss a class and fall behind on our class syllabus while sitting for another state-mandated exam. It’s frustrating to take time out for testing, when it eats away at instructional time that would allow my peers and me to excel in our classes.

Dampening Enthusiasm
Our teachers are not at fault. They’re not the ones mandating the exams. In fact, teachers suffer along with us as they struggle to readjust their instruction to prepare students for required testing. Tests put a damper on classroom productivity.

Not only do these tests shortchange our learning, they also carry emotional repercussions. I’ve seen the effects of severe test anxiety where stressed students sleep poorly, then have difficulty concentrating during the test and plod through it feeling increasingly panicked and discouraged. Their self-esteem drops. This scenario is not uncommon.

I’m puzzled why millions of dollars each year are spent on standardized exams that really don’t benefit students. I am not a test score. I am an individual with talents, goals and unique learning capabilities.

Readjustment Required
Our government, at both the federal and state levels, needs to step back and allow schools to readjust their focus — by minimizing standardized testing and enabling teachers to promote personalized learning growth of their students.

Let’s stop the assessment practices that constrain student engagement and originality. Allow schools to be the places in which creativity is celebrated and allowed to flourish.

Our schools must motivate, elevate, educate and inspire the next generation. I have sat too many times in front of state-mandated exams, stressed and discouraged. I’ve heard teachers apologize for the testing they oversee. It frustrates them as much as it does students. I don’t want my learning to take a backseat to testing any longer.


Claire Bower
is a senior at Gulf Coast High School in Naples, Fla., dually enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University. E-mail: Twitter: @claireee_bower