“Most of the learning happens outside the classroom.” That is the first lie they tell you. “The degree you earn reflects your education level.” That is the second. “In the real world, it never comes down to one big test.” That is the third and by far most insidious lie you will ever hear.
Sometime it seems as though life is dominated by the next big test. Between the New York State Regents, SATs, MCATs, LSATs, midterms and finals, it feels like we are stuck in a perpetual whirlpool of Scantrons, No. 2 pencils and silent rooms. Even once we supposedly emerge from the Ivory Tower and arrive in the “real world,” they make you pass a teaching exam, bar exam or CPA exam in order to actually start doing something “meaningful.” It just never ends. No wonder the Soviets used to put their citizens through a battery of examinations to determine their career paths.
Standardized testing has become a de facto barometer of future success. It is hailed as the great equalizer, where the skills conducive to achievement can be isolated and measured. Tests do not indicate your potential — tests are your potential, plain and simple.
Our current education system reflects this perfectly. Teachers hold extra sessions not to teach innovative material, but to go over what’s on the next exam. Extra office hours are held before the big midterm, but never after. Practice tests dominate Blackboard while extracurricular information seldom gets posted. The syllabus is not a road map for teaching but a calendar of when and what to study.
Yet an individual’s will and desire cannot be placed on a zero to 100 scale. Some people simply do not excel at standardized testing, while others show up high as a kite to the SAT and get into Columbia University.
Furthermore, there are an infinite number of intangibles that are unquantifiable. In this age, where your college, grade point average and starting salary are disproportionally dependent on your test-taking ability, that which is never graded doesn’t count.
There was once a very wise man. A fellow villager came up to him and asked if the wise man could teach him his wisdom. The wise man, without answering, brought him out into the ocean. Deeper and deeper they waded in until they could hardly stand. The wise man then pushed the villager’s head under the water. When the villager could no longer breathe, he broke the wise man’s grip and gasped for air. The man demanded an explanation for what the old man had done, to which he then replied, “When you desire knowledge as much as you desired that breath of air, then I will teach you my wisdom.”
It is the tragedy of our education system that the passion for learning is sacrificed for examinational aptitude. Here in college, where tests account for well over 50 percent of your GPA, the reality that examinations determine your success is inescapable. Yet some of us actually came here to learn. We squeaked into Binghamton University on unique personal essays and glowing teacher recommendations.
We were the kids who always raised our hands in class, even if just to ask a question. We bombed the SAT, flunked the Regents and got most of our points via test corrections and extra credit assignments. So when the syllabus gets handed out and there is no grade for attendance, participation or homework, it sends the message that academia is nothing but a grading formula. It makes it clear that the thinkers, innovators and dreamers must make way for the test takers.
People wonder why America spends so much money on education and has such little to show for it. Perhaps the greatest test of all is the one we are not taking.