Testing removes room for individuality

Scholars who lack testing abilities must prove their intelligence and capabilities through different outlets.  (Photo provided by Natalie Freitas via flickr)
Scholars who lack testing abilities must prove their intelligence and capabilities through different outlets. (Photo provided by Natalie Freitas via flickr)

Many students across New York state have opted out of some of the Common Core testing in the last two weeks. This means a huge wave of parents and their kids are really beginning to question the point of it all.

The Common Core is not necessarily an evil thing. I’m not saying that state testing is the work of the devil himself. After all, state standards have made New York one of the strongest performing states educationally over the last few decades.

What I don’t like is that testing has become the heart of the modern education system both in the state and the nation. Why is that? Because there are a lot of people in middle school and high school who are like me—they’re not test takers.

It wasn’t until college that I discovered my strengths and gained a lot of confidence in myself as a scholar. That’s because in college, I was able to concentrate on what I really wanted to do. As it turns out, I’m pretty good at it, I think, but I was never able to really see that because I evaluated myself the same way I had been evaluated academically throughout my whole life prior to college. I was showcased by the numbers on my report card.

The worst part is that I wasn’t a bad student. I stayed after school with my teachers to do my homework, I got every assignment done on time, I took the “slow math” classes for three years by choice so I could concentrate more on them and go through the material slowly and I only missed one day of school between third grade and graduation. But I was just bad at tests, which were usually 50 percent of the overall grade you’d get in a class. I would study like a madman, make index cards, do all of those things and follow the rules, but it just isn’t my thing.

To be a member of the National Honor Society in high school, one has to have above a 90 GPA. I fit all the other characteristics of being involved in that elite group, but I had an 89 GPA for 13 marking periods in a row. Two-tenths of a point kept me from sitting in the front row at my graduation.

At graduation, I saw many of my fellow test strugglers get robbed of achievements they deserved. A student who was going to college for psychology received the award for outstanding work in English, instead of a student who was just as good at English and was going to college to study it, just because their GPA was higher. A student who was going to school for computer science received a scholarship for the highest grade in history, while the person who got a few points lower on their test went to college for history with no scholarship.

I applied to Oswego State in November 2010 under the “early decision” application because I knew I wanted to go here. I was rejected. I didn’t want to take no for an answer, so I marched into the Office of Admissions on New Year’s Eve and demanded to know why I wasn’t accepted. I thought my enthusiasm, knowledge of the school and involvement before I went here would help me secure a spot. I was told early decision applications are based off an applicant’s SAT scores.

My application for college was based on a test with math and science subjects that I hadn’t done in years. I got a perfect score on the writing section both times I took it. Too bad that part barely counts.

Like many of the students who are walking away from these Common Core tests this week, I actually felt like I was not smart back then because of the test scores I received. I was discouraged and unsure if I could ever do better than the 64s and 56s I got circled in red at the top of my exams.

I was still accepted to and went to college. What if these Common Core tests discourage the next generation enough that they feel like they can’t get into college, so they don’t bother applying? These kids might be the people who someday cure cancer, run for president or win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But they won’t want to if they feel their character and intelligence are judged by a number on a piece of paper. And if that’s the case, we’ll all fail in the end.