Standardized Testing: The Pressure to Pass


Mrs. Emerson

English students take the reading and writing SOL in 11th grade. Aaron Haywood, 11, edits a paper he has written in preparation for the writing SOL. “I’m probably 75% prepared. I think if I work on editing, I will be fully prepared,” Haywood said.

Cassidy Andersen, Journalist

Students must pass the annual Standards of Learning (SOL) test in order to graduate. These requirements can cause stress on teachers and students due to the preparation that is needed to pass.

“The biggest mistake the night before is not getting enough sleep and the day off is stressing too much and overthinking about the question they are reading,” Hannah Treymer, 9.

The stress caused by standardized testing can cause a drop in performance in classes.

According to the Harvard School of Education, “students who showed the largest variations in cortisol between testing and non-testing weeks tended to perform worse on tests than expected given their classwork and performance on non-high-stakes tests, among other measures. Cortisol spikes weren’t the only culprit; some students’ cortisol dropped on testing days, which was also associated with lower performance.”

Orchestra Director, Mr. Bradley Blair has noticed a change in his students’ performance.

“Energy is a huge part of what we do in the music world. A lot of times we say being a conductor is 99% cheerleader. I’m trying to give as much as I’ve got, so I can motivate you to be energetic. When students are already drained it makes my job even harder, “ Bradley Blair, Music teacher, said.

Music classes don’t have standardized testing, although they do have an annual assessment where they are graded on their musical ability and how well they present the music at hand.

“Music like any art is subjective, certain people think this sounds good, others think that sounds good, there is no way you can ethically say “this is the best, this is it,” said Blair. “You can talk about things being good but you can never have true objective perfection.” 

Music and art classes give students a break from the stress of testing and also give these students a place to do what they are passionate about while getting needed credits to graduate. 

“I don’t know if it has to do with a lack of a test, typically the things that stand out to them is the sense of community that’s fostered from being in the same class for a number of years, in here as long as people keep taking the class you seem them all the way through. That or for the love of performing, that’s a big part of it,” said Blair.

Behind the scenes, standardized testing may be even more stressful than the test itself. Guidance Director Amy Legg recently took up the role of testing coordinator after a recent vacancy. 

“All of SOL testing goes through a statewide program called Pearson and every student and their test has to be put in and scheduled, you have to code them according to if they transferred in or have any accommodations. Everything has to be put in. One of the biggest challenges right now is with our proctors, so many teachers are out or quarantined, we have [fewer] rooms, it’s a challenge to find places to have testing,” said Legg. “It’s just time-consuming because it’s so tedious and scheduling each student and their test. If a student has passed the class at another school but did not pass the SOL then I have to put it in manually.”

Other than the changes in how testing is to be placed there have also been significant changes in attendance throughout the year.

“A lot more absences than in years past. I think partly in 2020 when we shut down they just gave the verified credit to everyone that semester, so I think people still have it in their mind that they are just going to give the credit. We are having to track down students who just aren’t showing up. We’ve never had absentee numbers like we have currently for SOL testing, so it just means a lot more makeup days and tracking people down,” said Legg.

Despite these challenges, there have been some advantages due to the last few school years.

“Up until this school year you either had to have six or nine verified credits, six for a standard, nine for advanced but starting with this year’s graduating class everyone needs five credits, so you don’t have to test as much,” said Legg.

Now that Legg is behind the scenes of SOL testing she has had more negative feelings towards standardized testing.

“I’m not a big fan of SOLs, I think it creates a lot of extra work and takes away from time that we could be something more valuable other than just testing. I heard from teachers who felt they had to teach to the SOL and it cut into other things that they felt were more valuable,” said Legg.

Standardized testing has been used since the 1800s, but standardized testing did not become as popular until 2001, when the  No Child Left Behind Act was passed by George W. Bush, which mandated annual testing.

“It’s good in theory, but when it actually played out and how it’s played out in the last couple years it’s leaving children behind, which is detrimental to what it stands for,” Kristen Andersen, 11.