Authors Ryan Durburg, Beau Waligora, and Jenny Ortega all contributed to the content of this feature.
Senior Jenny Ortega:
One thing I think we can all agree on is standardized testing is stressful. Standardized or not, however, testing in general is overwhelming for most of us. However, it seems that for my generation our whole academic life was surrounded by tests. From as early as the third grade I remember taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISATs), and dreading every second of it. I also remember taking MAPs (or Measure of Academic Progress) tests, which were no better than the ISATs. From the beginning of my class’s school career, standardized testing was imposed on us and at the forefront of our academic self-worth. At first it was the ISATs, MAP’s and etc. Now in high school, it is the ACT/SAT–and the suite of tests only gets harder as you grow up.
I always wondered why our lives were surrounded by standardized testing and I am sure that many of my peers have pondered the same thing. I would ask my teachers why, but I never seemed to get my questions answered entirely. Now, I know why my teachers didn’t go into too much detail in their explanations. There was too much information to explain to a curious ten year old. After taking several SATs and ACTs during my junior year, I researched and found out why we take standardized tests. I was stunned by my findings and how much information I had to sift through. This realization, though, was worth the endless information because I was genuinely really curious. Standardized testing affected me personally because I have deemed it to be unnecessary. I wholeheartedly believe that standardized tests are very unreliable and shouldn’t determine your future. I also think they restrict the creativity of the student. Many of my peers are extraordinarily creative; there is so much creativity in our area, but how do they demonstrate their creativity on a strictly formatted test. I think it is a blatant injustice to their creativity.
I couldn’t help but dig deeper. Through my research I found one main reason behind standardized testing. I also found out a lot about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This is all information I have never before seen or thought of. The 2002 update to The No Child Left Behind Act expanded the role of the federal government in holding schools accountable for the way their students were performing academically. They tested students’ academic aptitude by having students take standardized tests. From there on out, it gave standardized tests an even bigger importance and impact in our school system. The Bush administration–through the No Child Left Behind Act–would advance American competition in education and would close the gap between students throughout America.
However, NCLB got increasingly more controversial with the general public and was criticized by educators around the country. However, this all changed and in 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeed Acts (ESSA). ESSA minimizes the involvement of the federal government in educational policy. It changes a lot from the NCLB as it now gives more power to the state. Requirements and plans may vary from state to state as it is no longer is controlled by the federal government. It also has the expectation to make a positive impact on low-performing schools or schools with low graduation rates.
This may not affect Lake Forest High School directly because of the abnormally high graduation rate in relation to other schools in our area and in the country. However, it could potentially affect surrounding areas like North Chicago and Waukegan, with graduation rates of 63%– almost 30% less than Lake Forest High School. This information is useful to students because of all the importance and pressure that surrounds standardized testing and scoring well. It also answers questions to those wondering why students are required to take standardized tests. Students undergo a tremendous amount of stress during these tests, but there is, in fact, a reason behind it.
Senior Beau Waligora:
“It’s just really inconvenient. My College doesn’t require an SAT score but I still have to take the test anyway.” This was a quote from senior Ryan Durburg after I asked him his opinion on why he had to take the SAT test this year though he is already accepted to a college. Most people have heard of the infamous SAT test (Scholastic Aptitude Test), which is used by colleges to gauge a student’s readiness for university education. What some might not know is that in many states (including Illinois) the test is required to graduate from high school.
For those who don’t know the test is broken down in several different sections, those being Math, English, Science, and the option of Writing. The test is a multiple-hour endeavor and students–at least in our community–typically study with a tutor beforehand to prepare themselves. The test can be a good milestone in the college process, for those who need it. For every other student, it’s frankly a waste of their time. One reason the SAT graduation requirement puzzles me is the fact that schools already have their own requirements for graduation. In Illinois a student needs 4 years of Language Arts/English, 3 years of Math, 2 years of Science, Social Studies, and “Writing Intensive Courses”, and one year of Foreign Language, Art, or Music.
One major reason the test is a requirement is due to it being the statewide assessment test. I understand the reasoning for having a statewide assessment to measure how well students are doing in each school, but the SAT is a poor choice for this. The main reason for this is a lack of interest. For the students who are only taking the ACT–and not going to college or already got accepted into a school–the SAT is just a four-hour waste of time. If students see the test as a waste of time, they will not put their best foot forward when taking the test. According to the Illinois State Board of Education data in 2017, roughly 70% of high school seniors in Illinois attended a 2-4 year college after graduation. This means that about 30% of students do not attend college and therefore have no relevant purpose for putting their best effort forth on the SAT.
Overall, I understand the need to monitor the performance of students throughout the country. However the SAT is virtually unusable for this as it is a waste of time for many students.
Senior Ryan Durburg:
One of the most dreaded memories of every student’s high school experience is standardized testing. Whether it be the ACT or the SAT, most people who have attended high school can recollect on the weekly lessons, writing seminars, practice tests, and, of course, waking up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday to take the test. Generally, a student is often summoned to a school that they’ve never been inside of to take a four-hour test that has an essential impact on the college application process. The monotony and dullness of either test creates an image of standardized testing as a truly grueling process. The most common argument against the ACT or the SAT is that it, “doesn’t properly measure the intelligence of a given student.” However, I am here to question the reasoning behind why such a controversial test is required for high school graduation.
According to IllinoisReportCard.com, Lake Forest High School’s graduation rate sits at 96%, which is well over the national average of 83.2%. That means that 4% of students will not graduate at Lake Forest High School (67/1,674). All of these students who do not graduate, do have to take the test. This is because of the mandate of the state requiring students to take a standardized test that some colleges do not even require. Recently, the state mandate was switched from the ACT to the SAT, because it better measures a student’s intelligence. A number of colleges, including prestigious universities such as The University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University, list the SAT as ‘optional’ on their application. So why is such a taxing exam required to even graduate high school?
It is all located in the Illinois School Code. The state determines what the standard is for high school students to graduate their respective high school, and these rules apply to every school in the state of Illinois. State requirements to graduate include: four years of english, three years of math, two years of both science and social studies, and one year of an elective-type class. The code also requires certain subsets of those subjects, such as an Algebra I class and a Geometry class of some sort that are required for math. There are also requirements for classes such as consumer education and health education; one semester is required for each. Illinois is also one of six states that require physical education in all grades K-12. All of these are mentioned in this very extensive, lifeless document known as the Illinois School Code. What also is mentioned in this code, starting in the 2016-17 school year, is that the SAT with essay is the statewide required test for all Illinois high school students to graduate. But why, if 4% of students are not even graduating and 18% of students who do graduate do not even attend college after high school, is there an exam that all of these students have to take when it clearly gives them no value to their academic future? Not to mention, the students who attend universities or community colleges who don’t require a single standardized test, they too have to take this test.
The Illinois state government is the one who is responsible for implementing policy and requirements for high school students. Their job in doing that is very important, setting a high standard for students for their best interest. However, the concept that the government mandates a single test only for high school students to graduate undermines the freedom of students to choose a path that is suitable for them. High school students should have the choice to advocate for themselves in their academic journey and not be fixated on a such a test.